Ouzo, Sambuca, Pastis, and More!
People usually either love licorice or hate it, and that means there are those who love anisette liqueurs and those who don’t. But they are remarkably popular throughout the world, with so many different countries and cultures featuring their own version. What accounts for the popularity? Anise-flavored herbs have long been held to have medicinal properties, especially for settling the stomach (which made them ideal accompaniments to food and perfect ingredients for digestifs). Additionally, when the popular absinthe went out of favor, anisette liqueurs provided the same flavor profile without the dangerous wormwood.
Here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) look at some of our favorite anisette liquors!
Sambuca is Italy’s version of the anisette liqueur, and can be found in clear (“white sambuca”) and dark (“black sambuca”) varieties. The latter tends to be more alcoholic and less sweet, with a strong licorice flavor. The name “sambuca” purportedly comes from the word for elderberries, as elderflowers are a common ingredient (along with the anise, star anise, and licorice). It is served either neat or with a glass of ice water, allowing the drinker to dilute it at will. Traditionally, it is also served with three coffee beans in it, called “con la mosca” (“with the fly”). Another popular way to serve it is either alongside or poured into an espresso.
Spain’s most known version of an anisette liqueur is the whimsically named “Anís del mono,” or “Monkey’s anisette,” and its most famous appearance is surely in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises:
“He’s not dead,” Mike said. “I know he’s not dead. He’s just passed out on Anis del Mono.”
As he said Anis del Mono one of the men at the table looked up, brought out a bottle from inside his smock, and handed it to me.
“No,” I said. “No, thanks!”
“Yes. Yes. Arriba! Up with the bottle!”
I took a drink. It tasted of licorice and warmed all the way. I could feel it warming in my stomach.
(Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. 1926. 163. Print.)
Pastis is one of the most known anisettes, especially in the south of France, where in cities like Marseille it is extremely popular (and is even used in the famed Bouillabaisse fish stew). Like most other varieties, it is served with a glass of cold water. Unlike some anisettes, the star anise flavoring is augmented by licorice root. Two of the most known varieties of pastis in France are Pernod and Ricard, previously rival versions of the beverage, but now owned by the same company.
The Peruvian version of an anise liqueur is the popular (and strong) Anís Najar, which has been produced for some hundred-and-fifty-plus years. Like sambuca, it is sometimes added to coffee for an extra kick!
The Turkish form of anisette is Raki, and it is generally served neat or with ice water as an aperitif with appetizers. Unlike many of the other anisettes one finds, Raki traditionally starts with the grape (or sometimes the raisin), and is produced through the distillation (or double distillation) of the grapes with ethanol, to which aniseed is added for the distinctive flavor. It is also decidedly less sweet than many anisettes, with a slightly bitter finish.
One of the most known anisette beverages, of course, is ouzo, that strong Greek elixir that some say dates back to fourteenth-century monks (why was it always the monks who developed the good spirits in Europe?). Ouzo also gives its name to the “ouzo effect,” which is the chemical reaction that causes clear anisette liqueurs to turn cloudy when mixed with cold water. If not mixed with water, ouzo is served cold, and usually with small plates of appetizers.
You can taste any of these anisettes in their natural setting during a cooking vacation. Please browse our cooking vacation itineraries for all of our offerings.
By Peg Kern