Anise vs Licorice – Just Why Do They Taste the Same?

Chris Starks
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So Exactly What are Anise and Licorice?

Anise, and its flavor relative, licorice, are actually two different members of the same family – the mint family. But despite their family ties, licorice and anise are distinct herbs with distinct flavors. Anise is slightly sweet and licorice is slightly bitter.

Licorice was originally used to flavor wine, which eventually led to its popular use in fudge, gums, and sweets. Anise sprouts are best known to flavor licorice candies and pastries. And because both are very similar in flavor, most people think that the words anise and licorice are interchangeable. But they’re not.

Anise is a flowering plant that grows in East Asia; aside from its use in licorice and the familiar anise flavoring often used in baked goods, it is also used to flavor liquors such as anisette. Licorice is used to flavor gums, pastries, and tobacco products (such as natural chewing tobacco), as well as some liquors and liqueurs. Another difference is that anise seeds smell like licorice, but they taste like black pepper. Licorice roots have a subtle and pleasant licorice flavor, and they have a sweet appearance that resembles anise seed.

What Does Licorice and Anise Taste Like?

Both anise and licorice have a distinct taste that lingers, and for this reason, they are sometimes confused with one another. In fact, the two plants can easily be grown next to each other because they have similar water requirements and they can be found in the same regions. And although there are many different varieties of anise plants, licorice is not a type of anise.

If you’ve ever tasted anise or licorice, you should recognize the distinctive flavor. The fact is that anise and licorice do share many of the same flavor components, but they actually have different chemical compositions and contain different proportions of these components. Because of this, the flavor of licorice is sometimes described as “brighter” than that of anise.

When it comes to appearance, anise plants have shiny oval leaves with pointed tips, and licorice plants have dull, serrated leaves. Licorice plants also have hairy stems that exude a milky sap when cut. On the other hand, anise plants have smooth stems that don’t exude any sap.

How Is Anise Used?

Anise is an herb that is a member of the parsley family. It has a delicate licorice flavor and is widely used in noodle dishes and desserts around the world.

The main reason that people put anise in food is to make it taste sweeter. This is because anise helps to curb the bitter flavor of some foods. In some cases, the bitter flavor of anise is also transferred to the food. Anise is a great ingredient for ratatouille-like vegetables, desserts, Thai curries, and sprinkled on nuts.

Anise does have medicinal properties, but they are not well-researched. Most of the medicinal claims are passed from generation to generation and are not supported by any evidence. Some people think it helps with digestion, but that is not necessarily supported by any medical research. It does, however, have fennel oil which acts as a tonic for the digestive track.

Anise is naturally gluten free and is generally considered safe. The seeds have been used in medicinal settings for thousands of years.

What Is the Difference Between Anise and Star Anise?

Anise and star anise are from the same plant family, similar in appearance, but have distinct differences.

Their taste and smell are similar and they’re both used in Chinese cuisine. Anise is more commonly used in the States while star anise tends to be more popular in Asian countries.

Other than their taste, the differences between the two run deeper. Star anise has a fruitier flavor while anise is slightly more manly. Star anise, also known as ‘Chinese anise’ is a common ingredient in curries and other Indian and Asian dishes.

The differences between the two don’t stop there. While anise is a spice, star anise is a dried fruit pod. Star anise also grows on a shrub while anise is a small brown bulb. Finally, star anise is mostly used in powdered form whereas anise can typically be seen dried in bunches.

How Do You Use Licorice?

Licorice is one of the most popular flavorings in the world, especially in cupcakes, candy, ice cream, trail mixes and sodas. There are a number of licorice plants, but when people refer to licorice root, they are generally referring to the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra plant.

Is Black Licorice a Laxative?

Some people find black licorice to have anise flavor and others taste licorice. Regardless of the name, there's a good chance that the licorice you are eating, no matter its color, origin, or flavor, has the same active ingredient.

It's not just flavoring that's the same. People who experience side effects from eating black licorice are not imagining things. Most of the licorice candy sold in the United States is actually flavored with anise.

If you've ever wondered why black licorice doesn't have its own unique taste, here is the answer.

Chemically, the active ingredient in licorice is glycyrrhizin, which is a compound found to be a simple extract from the licorice root. This extract has a very sweet taste and dissolves well in liquids with only a few drops flavoring large amounts of water or tea.

Although it has the flavor of licorice or anise, a chemical analysis will show that glycyrrhizin is 0.5 percent different from anethole, the compound that gives anise its distinctive flavor. This very small change in the chemical properties of glycyrrhizin results in a flavor and sweetness that is noticeably different.

Does Red Licorice Contain Licorice?

You might have noticed that red licorice doesn’t taste like licorice: it tastes like anise. But it’s not black licorice. It’s made from licorice root extract. So why does red licorice taste like anise and not black licorice taste like licorice?

Licorice root extract and anise are from the same plant family, but there are differences between them.

Anise has a sweet and warm flavor but licorice has an earthy, almost bitter flavor. The reason why red licorice or anise tastes familiar to black licorice users is due to the desired flavor of black licorice, which is more similar to anise than licorice.

Also, in black licorice, the licorice is often mixed with the anise flavor to mask the bitter flavor of licorice. In other words, the black licorice flavor people recognize tastes more like anise than licorice.

Which Vegetable Tastes Like Licorice?

Anise is used as a spice in preparation of many cuisines around the world. But it’s not the only vegetables that taste like anise.

Licorice, the famous candy flavored that can easily be recognized based on its anise taste, is made out of two herbs – sugar beet and licorice, which is where its name originates from. But also for example, Italian fennel and star anise, the Chinese sweet osmanthus, and the leaf of the Seville orange tree which one would rather expect to taste like citrus or orange, all taste like anise.

Agastache foeniculum, also known as Anise Hyssop or just Hyssop is commonly used in spice blends.

Simarouba amara, also known as Sweetleaf Tree, tastes like anise, and is used to produce vanillin, which is used to flavor foods and confections.

Pimpinella anisum is commonly known as anise in English or badian in Arabic. It’s used as a spice in Asia, in particular in Persian cuisines. The spice is also related to anise, and tastes similar.

In Conclusion

Anise and Licorice Have Little in Common Except their Taste.

Seriously, if you’ve spent anytime drinking licorice, eating licorice, or writing about licorice, it is jarring to see so many similarities between this spice and the herb anise. The botanical structures are very similar. In fact, anise and licorice are both in the Umbelliferae family, or “umbel” family, along with carrots, celery, fennel, parsley, dill, and many other plants. However, when we get down to details, you’ll discover why these plants taste completely different. First, on a structural level——by which I mean genetics and molecular reactions——anise and licorice are incredibly dissimilar.