Star anise is a specialty of Lang Son Province in Vietnam’s northern mountain region, it ripens in the fall.
|Star anise fruits. (duoclieuvietnam.com.vn)|
When fall arrives, a mesmerizing scent is emitted by the endless star anise forest surrounding villages in Van Quan District, Lang Son Province. To Van Dong of Yen Phuc Commune and his family pick the star anise fruits in full bloom.
Years of experience has taught them that because of the brittle, easy-to-break tree branches, farmers should climb the trees and pick up the fruits on sunny days, when the branches are hard enough to hold them.
If star anise fruits are not picked at the right time, the trees will not produce more flowers next year.
Dong said, “It has been 20 years since I started growing star anise. The trees need very little care to yield two crops a year. One in August and the other in January. Star anise generates bigger, more dependable profits than maize or potatoes. Most locals now grow star anise as their main crop. We no longer need to dry the star anise fruits and sell them at the market because traders now come directly to our house to buy the fresh fruits.”
After harvest, fresh star anise fruits are sold to traders or local factories for processing. For 40 years, Nong Van Tu of Na Hay Commune has been distilling star anise essential oil, which has been recognized as a One-Commune-One-Product (OCOP) product. Tu’s branding and product design will soon hit market shelves domestically and internationally.
Mr. Tu said, “Our factory produces up to 15 tons of star anise essential oil each year, part of which is exported to the western European countries. The complete process of distillation takes 48 hours and produces 60 kilograms of essential oil. I’m a local farmer pursuing our traditional career and product quality is guaranteed. I anticipate support from the local authorities to ensure sales outlets to keep our production line going.”
Processed star anise fruits are much pricier than raw fruits. Pham Thi Giang, Director of the Lang Son Agro-Forestry Product Processing and Exporting Company Limited, said, “In addition to exporting, we are researching the infusion of star anise into liquid floor cleaner, dishwashing liquid, and shampoo. Customers love our natural products made by local producers. We’re proud of our products, too. Our company wants to work with agencies to make our marketing campaigns more effective.”
Van Quan District is the center of star anise production in Lang Son Province. The total growing area is 14,000 hectares. 30,000 tons of fresh star anise fruits are harvested on a yearly basis.
In 2020, star anise farming generated US$30 million for Van Quan District. To fully tap this potential, the Lang Son provincial administration has included star anise farming in a sustainable development strategy with a vision to 2030.
The growing area will be expanded to 20,000 hectares stretching across Van Quan, Binh Gia, and Van Lang District.
Nong Van Tung, Chief of the Agriculture Office of Van Quan District, said, “We plan to build a factory with cutting-edge technology for intensive production of star anise to underwrite the entire yield of star anise. This will both secure an outlet for farmers and diversify products for export, particularly the European market. We are luring investors into star anise production to boost our added value.”
There are hard and fast rules about what spices and herbs can be used in what Vietnamese dishes and there’s no room for deviation.