Why Does Pho Taste Like Anise or Licorice? The Answer May Surprise You

Why does pho taste like licorice? If you’ve ever had pho, you may have noticed that it has a unique flavor, one that some describe as tasting like licorice. This is not an accident; there are several reasons why pho tastes this way. In this article, we’ll explore the ingredients and cooking methods that make pho taste like licorice.

What is Pho?

Pho is a Vietnamese soup that is typically made with beef broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat. It is a popular dish in Vietnam and has become increasingly popular in other countries around the world. The soup can be customized with a variety of different meats and toppings, but the base remains the same: a rich, savory broth.

Who Created Pho?

The exact origins of pho are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in northern Vietnam in the early 20th century. It was originally a street food sold by vendors who roamed the streets carrying large pots of broth and noodles. Over time, pho became more popular and began to be served in restaurants.

How Is Pho Made?

There are many different variations of pho, but most recipes involve simmering beef bones, ginger, onions, and spices for several hours to create a rich broth. The broth is then strained and served with rice noodles, herbs, and meat. The herbs used in pho, such as Thai basil, cilantro, and mint, give the soup its distinctive flavor.

Pho Ingredients: Why Does Pho Taste Like Licorice?

Pho Ingredient Why Does Pho Taste Like Licorice
Pho Ingredient Why Does Pho Taste Like Licorice

Pho is a Vietnamese soup that has gained popularity in many parts of the world due to its rich and complex flavors. One of the most distinctive features of pho is the presence of anise or licorice-like flavor.

The primary reason why pho tastes like licorice is due to the use of star anise, which is a spice native to China and Vietnam. Star anise is a key ingredient in the broth used to make pho, and it imparts a sweet, fragrant flavor that is reminiscent of licorice.

Star anise has been used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine for centuries due to its various health benefits. It contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. In addition, it is believed to aid digestion and alleviate symptoms of coughs and colds.

To make pho, the star anise is typically added to a simmering beef or chicken broth, along with other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and coriander. The broth is then poured over rice noodles and slices of meat, usually beef or chicken, and garnished with fresh herbs and vegetables such as Thai basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chilies.

While star anise is the main contributor to the licorice-like flavor of pho, there are other ingredients that can also contribute to this taste. For example, fennel seeds, which are also commonly used in pho recipes, have a similar flavor to anise and can enhance the overall licorice-like taste of the soup.

It is worth noting that not all pho tastes like licorice, as the exact recipe and preparation methods can vary depending on the region and the chef. However, the use of star anise is a common ingredient in most pho recipes, and it is what gives the soup it’s signature sweet and fragrant flavor that many people love.

In conclusion, pho tastes like licorice due to the use of star anise in the broth. This spice adds a sweet and fragrant flavor that is unique to pho and is one of the many reasons why this dish has become so popular around the world.

Pros and Cons of Pho’s Licorice Flavor

Pros and Cons of Pho's Licorice Flavor
Pros and Cons of Pho’s Licorice Flavor

The licorice flavor in pho is only some people’s cup of tea. Some people love it, while others find it overwhelming. However, there are some benefits to this unique flavor. For one, it adds a depth of flavor to the soup that sets it apart from other soups. Additionally, star anise has several health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

On the other hand, if you’re not a fan of licorice, you may find pho unappetizing. The licorice flavor can be overpowering for some palates, and it may take some getting used to. Additionally, if you are allergic to anise or any other ingredient in pho, you should avoid it altogether.

Alternatives to Pho

If you prefer pho’s licorice flavor, there are plenty of other Vietnamese dishes to try. Bun cha is a grilled meat and noodle dish that is similar to pho but without the licorice flavor. Banh mi sandwiches, spring rolls, and banh xeo pancakes are other popular Vietnamese dishes that are worth trying.

Tips for Enjoying Pho

If you want to fully appreciate pho’s unique flavor, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First, be sure to taste the broth on its own before adding any herbs or sauces. This will give you a sense of the soup’s base flavor. Second, feel free to add toppings and condiments to your liking. A squeeze of lime, a handful of bean sprouts, and a drizzle of hoisin sauce can all enhance the flavor of the soup.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Pho at Home

Step by Step Guide to Making Pho at Home
Step by Step Guide to Making Pho at Home

If you’re feeling ambitious, try making pho at home. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Start by simmering beef bones, ginger, onions, and spices in a large pot for several hours.
  2. Once the broth is ready, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids.
  3. Cook rice noodles according to package instructions and divide them among serving bowls.
  4. Add thinly sliced raw beef to each bowl.
  5. Ladle hot broth over the noodles and beef.
  6. Serve with a plate of herbs and lime wedges on the side.

Comparison of Pho to Other Soups

Pho is often compared to other types of soup, such as ramen and chicken noodle soup. While they all share some similarities, there are some key differences. Ramen typically has a thicker broth and is made with wheat noodles instead of rice noodles. Chicken noodle soup is typically lighter and less complex in flavor than pho.

The Best Places to Try Pho

The Best Places to Try Pho
The Best Places to Try Pho

If you’re looking for the best places to try pho, look at your local Vietnamese restaurants. However, not all pho is created equal. Some restaurants may use lower-quality ingredients or skip steps in the cooking process that affect the final flavor of the soup. To find the best pho in town, ask for recommendations from friends and read online reviews.


So, why does pho taste like licorice? Pho’s licorice flavor is what sets it apart from other soups. The addition of star anise and other spices gives the soup a complex flavor profile that is beloved by many. However, if you prefer something other than licorice, there are plenty of other Vietnamese dishes to try. Whether you make it at home or order it at a restaurant, pho is a delicious and comforting dish that is worth trying at least once.


1. Is pho healthy?

Yes, pho can be a healthy dish. It is low in fat and calories and contains a variety of vegetables and herbs.

2. Can I make vegetarian pho?

Yes, you can make vegetarian pho by using vegetable broth instead of beef broth and adding tofu or mushrooms instead of meat.

3. What’s the best way to eat pho?

The best way to eat pho is to add herbs, sauces, and condiments to your liking and enjoy the soup with a spoon and chopsticks.

4. Can I freeze pho?

Yes, you can freeze pho for later. Be sure to cool it completely before transferring it to a freezer-safe container.

5. Is pho gluten-free?

It depends on the type of noodles used. Rice noodles are generally gluten-free, but some restaurants may use wheat-based noodles, so it’s always best to ask.

About Mai Tran

As Mai Tran, the author of the Bunker Vietnamese website specializing in Vietnamese food, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all my readers. Growing up in a Vietnamese household, I have always had a deep appreciation for the rich and diverse flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. Through my website, I aim to share my passion for cooking and my cultural heritage with the world. From traditional recipes passed down through generations to modern twists on classic dishes, my website is a celebration of the vibrant and delicious world of Vietnamese food. Join me on this culinary journey and discover the beauty and complexity of Vietnamese cuisine.

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