Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe #180: Licorice Spice Herbal Tea

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Yes, another tea recipe. :) This one's made with real licorice root, vanilla bean, aniseed, and star anise, among other ingredients. I was really pleased with the way it turned out and hope you will enjoy it as well.

Please note that while aniseed, Chinese star anise, and licorice root all have a similar taste, they are not the same thing. Botanically speaking, they are from entirely different plants (and plant families). All of these spices do, however, contain antehole, the aromatic, naturally occurring compound that primarily contributes to the "licorice" flavor of these spices.

Before you make this recipe, I'd like to issue a word of caution about star anise consumption: Some of you who follow me on Twitter may recall that I'd tweeted earlier in the week about the FDA's warning about drinking teas brewed with star anise, which was issued back in 2003. From the way the FDA has worded the advisory, it appears that they're mainly referring to loose and pre-packaged tea bags. However, it's still a bit unclear (to me at least) as to whether or not the FDA has any potential issues with the way whole star anise is being packaged, labelled, and sold. This remains to be seen, as this information isn't really clarified in the advisory.

Part of the confusion is that there's more than one type of star anise. While commonly available Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) is not toxic, Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), which contains sikimitoxin, is. The FDA's primary concern is that some companies might actually be selling teas made with Japanese star anise, or a combination of the two types. Apparently, once star anise has been dried and processed, it's virtually impossible to distinguish between the two varieties just by looking at them. This is clearly an issue with the way star anise is being packaged and sold.

The final outcome is that, since the FDA has thus far been unable to determine (from the medical reports) which variety led to the illnesses that'd affected 40 people, of which 15 were infants, they'd issued an interim, blanket advisory on the consumption of all teas brewed with star-anise, which particularly advised against giving this type of tea to infants.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who became ill from drinking tea brewed with star anise were probably consuming the Japanese variety. :) For the record, I've been a long-time drinker of my own homemade tea brewed with whole-spice Chinese star anise, and have never once gotten sick from consumption of the Chinese variety nor personally experienced any of the symptoms or problems reported to the FDA. That being said, I'm mentioning the aforementioned advisory as both a heads-up and a legal disclaimer. :) This way, you can come to an informed decision as to whether or not you'd like to try the below recipe.

Obviously, if a person consumes teas made from prepackaged tea bags, it's basically impossible to distinguish if the tea contains Chinese or Japanese star anise. However, this recipe clearly uses whole Chinese star anise and not the preprocessed star anise tea or the commercially sold powdered version of this spice. When I buy star anise for cooking, whether online or in a grocery store, I make a point of checking labels and only buying the whole form of the spice. This way, I feel like I at least have a modicum of control over the ingredients I'm purchasing and using. To my knowledge, I've only ever bought the Chinese variety. It's also a comfort to know that the FDA is, in fact, monitoring star anise imports entering the US from other countries to ensure that the Japanese variety isn't being labeled for use as food.

One other, final advisory: Despite some of the positive health properties of licorice, consuming large amounts of glycyrrhizic acid (a compound found in licorice) can lead to hypokalemia and large increases in blood pressure, so please don't over do it with your licorice tea consumption. Also, if you have high blood pressure, you'll probably want to refrain from eating foods with glycyrrhizic acid in general.

Anyhow, I hope that the above warnings didn't scare you too much. That wasn't my intent. :) If you take special care to make sure you're using the Chinese variety of star anise and moderate your glycyrrhizic acid consumption, the above warnings will hopefully not apply. And now onto the recipe!

Licorice Spice Herbal Tea

1 gallon (16 c.) water
4 whole Ceylon cinnamon sticks, 3" inch pieces
20 whole cloves
10 green cardamom pods
1 Tbsp. fresh orange zest (the zest of about 1 large orange)
1 large whole vanilla bean, split open with a knife & scooped out with a knife/spoon to remove essence
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) cut licorice root
1 Tbsp. anise seeds
2 Tbsp. whole Chinese star anise
1/2 Tbsp. cut sarsaparilla

Directions: Bring the water to a rolling boil in a large pot, about 8 minutes. Add all spices, turn off heat, and allow to seep on stovetop for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain to remove whole herbs and spices, and then pour into a tea pot or other heat proof pitcher/container. (If it's easier, use heat-proof tongs first to remove the larger pieces -- vanilla bean, Chinese star anise, cinnamon bark, etc. -- before straining.) Pour into tea cups and serve. Tea can be served either hot or cold (as an herbal iced tea).

Chef's Notes: Please note, this recipe makes a LOT of tea. As in, enough for a large army. :) So, you might need to halve or quarter the recipe to bring it down to a more reasonable size. The reason the yield's so high is that I used a whole vanilla bean, which is quite fragrant and strong (!), and had to balance it out by adding more water. :) I've never really sliced a vanilla bean in half or quartered it, as I've always used it whole, but of course, you can do this if you like, if you decide to cut the recipe yield.

What I like to do is make a big batch of this tea, let it cool, & then transfer to a tall pitcher with a lid. That way, I can always heat it up when I'm in the mood for a hot cup of tea. Or, if you'd prefer it cold, just add ice cubes to the pitcher and serve. Be sure to make the ice cubes from the tea mixture itself, you won't dilute the flavor of the tea. A pretty nifty trick, eh?! :)

Also, I strongly recommend that you don't substitute the vanilla bean for vanilla extract, as the extract will leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Believe me, I tried that in the first go-round/batch and the results weren't pretty. ;) The taste of a fresh vanilla bean simply cannot be matched by extract or imitation vanilla, the latter of which is not even healthy for you anyhow.

Also, use a fresh orange when making the orange zest. The commercially sold dried orange peel is bitter, and won't taste very good in this tea recipe. So, be sure to use the fresh stuff!

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