Colonial Chocolate Spices: Anise
Visitors to Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop are often surprised to discover that our colonial drinking chocolate is seasoned with eight different spices. American Heritage Historic Chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, chili pepper, anise, orange zest, salt, and annatto, as well as a small amount of sugar. We will be taking a closer look at each of these spices to explore their origins and uses in colonial American cooking.
Anise rounds out the flavor of our colonial drinking chocolate by adding just a hint of aromatic sweetness. Anise grows as the small, hard fruit of the Pimpinella anisum plant, a small flowering annual. When the anise is ready to be harvested, some or all of the plant is cut from the ground and allowed to dry. The fruits, which are commonly referred to as anise seeds, are easily extracted from the plant once it has dried. The seeds are sold whole, ground into a powder, or used to produce anise oil. The leaves of the plant are also eaten fresh in salads and other dishes.
Anise originated in the eastern Mediterranean region of Europe, the Middle East and Egypt. The plant has been cultivated and used for medicinal and culinary purposes since antiquity. Anise spread throughout Europe during the middle ages and was grown in England by the 16th century. Records indicate that anise was being planted, harvested, and used in Colonial America by the early 1700s. Today, anise is grown worldwide wherever there is a long enough growing season to allow the anise to fully mature and ripen, which takes about four months.
Anise was grown and harvested throughout the colonies, and the seeds and oil were both called for in a wide variety of 18th century recipes. Anise and other seeds were commonly used whole to give texture to breads and cakes. They were also used to flavor drinks, such as black cherry water. In addition to flavoring food and beverages, anise was called for in many medicinal and cosmetic recipes. One recipe to make “Lozenges for a Cold” required “a little oil of anise-seed” to be added to a powdered sugar paste, while a recipe for face wash called for “two penny-worth of oil of anise-seed” to be mixed into a quart of milk. The earliest known English recipe for chocolate included anise seed in its list of ingredients alongside sugar, chili pepper, cloves, almonds, and orange flower water. In the English tradition, our colonial drinking chocolate includes just a hint of anise to finish off the beverage’s spiced bittersweet flavor.