There’s a long list of flavors that people seem to either love or hate. Along with cilantro and blue cheese, many have strong opinions about anise, which has a taste profile resembling black licorice.
“Licorice is just a polarizing flavor,” says Anthony Caporale, director of spirits education at the Institute of Culinary Education, who loves the flavor of anise. “My take is that it’s a slightly unsettling mix of sweet and bitter. It has just a little bit too much of both, and not everyone can process that at the same time.”
Anise has been used for centuries as a flavoring for distilled spirits in many different countries. Growing up in an Italian-American family, Caporale’s grandparents often drank Anisette, an anise-flavored liqueur, with coffee. “That was always passed around after meals,” he says.
But even if you don’t love the flavor, there are several ways to drink anise spirits. Here, experts share everything you need to know about enjoying them.
What Is Anise?
The anise flavor and aroma may resemble licorice, but the two aren’t from the same plant. Licorice comes from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant. In comparison, anise is derived from the seeds of the Pimpinella anisum, one of the oldest spice plants that have been grown in the Middle East and Mediterranean for generations.
“Many of us equate anise and licorice because of their similarities, and anise is often used as a flavor in licorice candies, but I think of anise as sharper, spicier and slightly sweeter,” says Danny Ronen, founder of DC Spirits and spirits educator at Shaker & Spoon.
Anise liqueurs feature “very strong medicinal flavored plant extracts,” says Caporale. It was traditionally used for healing purposes but today is enjoyed across the globe as a flavoring for cooked dishes and baked goods.
How Anise Spirits Are Made
There are dozens of anise-flavored spirits, and they’re all made a little bit differently. From Lebanon’s arak and Greece’s mastika, to raki from Turkey and aguardiente from Spain and Portugal, each has its own unique origins, qualities and tastes. But, each anise spirit is similar in that they have a distilled spirit base and an alcohol by volume (abv) of around 35%–50%, according to Caporale.
Ouzo is a spirit from Greece that is made from wine grapes that are distilled to a high purity to remove the grape flavor. “So, you end up with a very clean, neutrally-flavored base spirit and then they flavor it with the anise,” says Caporale.