Star anise grows as dark brown pods with eight segments, each containing a pea-sized seed. This spice hails from an evergreen tree plant that is native to southern China and northeast Vietnam, although it is now grown in countries like Laos, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The flavor, which is present in both the seeds and the star itself, is very sweet and licorice-like, similar to aniseed (though the plants are not related). In China, which has used it for centuries, star anise is a key ingredient in five-spice powder (with cloves, cinnamon, fennel and Sichuan peppercorn).
Star anise is a good source of two antioxidants: the essential oil linalool and vitamin C that helps protect the body against cellular damage caused by free radicals and environmental toxins.