IWRS Magazine November 2012
Continuing our journey to discover Antica Sambuca, in this issue we’ll tell you about one of the main ingredients of Antica, the anise.
‘Anise’ includes the fruits of several plants very different from each other, but we will focus our attention on two of these: star anise and green anise. Their seeds are rich in anethole oil, extracted through a process of steam distillation to give sambuca its distinctive flavour. The two plants are very different. Star anise, or illicium verum, belongs to the magnoliacee family.
The fruits are harvested when they are still green, then dried in the warmth of the sun until they turn a reddish-brown colour. Star anise grows in the wild but its centre of cultivation is in the north of Vietnam and in the southern regions of China, including Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Fujian. Green anise, or pimpinella anisum, is a small annual plant similar to fennel. It blooms in July, when the plants are then cut and dried, and in this way the seeds reach their maximum ripeness. This plant is thought to be native to Asia, where it is used for health remedies, thanks to its digestive properties.
The use of anise has ancient origins. In ancient and medieval times, spices were considered one of the most valuable products because they were used in several ways: as a cosmetic, a medicine, in the kitchen due to their flavours, and during religious ceremonies. These products played a central role in history, by motivating the exploration of new trade routes. The Assyrians and Babylonians knew the virtues of spice and used many spices in cooking and as medicines. It is believed that star anise appeared in Europe in around the eighth or ninth century. Throughout the Middle Ages, Venice (then called the Most Serene Republic of Venice) assumed a fundamental role in the exploration of new land and in the development of commerce between Europe and eastern regions.
The Venetian merchants introduced fruits and spices to Europe including ginger, cinnamon, pepper and rhubarb. The Venetian tradition in the exploration had great success with Marco Polo, whose memories have been collected in the book The Travels of Marco Polo(known asIl Milionein Italian). It seems that Marco Polo brought star anise to Venice after his long stay in China, where it was widely used for medicinal purposes.
In the 15th to 16th centuries the period of the great explorers began: the first was Vasco da Gama who opened a new route to India by sailing around Africa and gaining commercial predominance; then Christopher Columbus, who, looking for a faster and safer route to India, discovered the Americas. Finally, many British explorers opened up further trade routes through their colonial rule which lasted until the first half of the 20th century.