Meat – What happens to the flavour of meat when you cook it Star Anise with Onions

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What exactly is the chemical reaction that occurs when you cook Star Anise with Onions?

According to Heston Blumenthal doing this intensifies the flavour of meat.

Ultimately what I want to know is can you use this on any meat based recipe? Won't the flavour of the Star Anise be overpowering?

Best Answer

It is basically the anethole (a phenol) of the star anise that react with the sulfur in the onion to create sulfur-phenolic aromatics. In Chinese cuisine the same family of reactions is used with duck and pork.

The sulfur-phenols are also produced during the Maillard reaction, the reaction that gives grilled meat its characteristic flavor, so adding star anise to the onions will give your dishes more of that grilled, browned flavor. The reactions of the compounds in the star anise with those in the meat are not the relevant reactions for flavor or texture.

From averaging a few recipes, I would say 1 star anise for every 250g of chopped onion. Too much star anise will highlight the other aromas in star anise, so one has to use it in moderation and allow enough time for the reactions to take place.

Garam masala, a common Indian spice combination that is used in meat dishes, may have star anise. Star anise is sometimes used in French onion soup — it intensifies the caramel flavor of the onions — and in Vietnamese cuisine, which today incorporates French elements.