11.8.09

READ: STAR ANISE and SWINE FLU (H one N 0ne)


The swine flu outbreak has infected more than...

Ini beberapa maklumat berkaitan H1N1 yang saya petik daripada bahan-bahan berita dan akademik daripada laman web yang boleh menambah pengetahuan kita.

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The swine flu outbreak has infected more than 8,000 people worldwide. In China, only three confirmed cases have been reported so far, but a surprising group of people is feeling the virus' economic impact.

Spice prices in a dusty covered market in Shanghai may seem an unlikely barometer of the level of public panic about new pandemic flus. But many people here believe that a star-shaped spice is a silver bullet against swine flu, and before that, bird flu. It's star anise, an orangey-red, licorice-smelling spice normally used in stews and five-spice powder.

The reason, as a spokesman for the drug-maker Roche explains, is that there are only two ways to produce the active ingredient for the flu-fighting drug Tamiflu — and one of them depends on star anise.

"One of the most important ingredients for Tamiflu is shikimic acid," says the spokesman, Cao Yong. "This stuff can be developed from star anise and the fermentation process in E. coli. That's the link."

Thirty pounds of star anise pods produce only one pound of shikimic acid. And 90 percent of the world's star anise is from China. Four years ago, when bird flu was the next big pandemic threat, a star anise shortage caused bottlenecks in Tamiflu production.

Governments around the world have ordered 220 million courses of Tamiflu amid the current outbreak, and Cao says Roche has enough ingredients to avoid problems.

In China, ordinary shoppers are using more star anise partly because of a cooking tip from none other than the country's health minister, Chen Zhu. He suggested at a news conference that using star anise when cooking pork would be "a very good option to deal with

swine flu."

There is no scientific proof that this is true. And there's no known risk of getting swine flu from eating pork.

Yet from the moment the outbreak became widespread in Mexico, the cost of star anise in China started to rise, says spice seller Huang Jinshan.

The retail price of the spice has soared some 30 percent, to about a dollar a pound. But Huang, scooping up handfuls of star anise pods to weigh them, is unimpressed. He recalls fondly the run on white vinegar four years ago after rumors that it could cure bird flu.

Within a fortnight, he says, a 20-cent bottle of white vinegar was selling for $7 — a thirtyfold increase. Then the market completely collapsed.

That's unlikely to happen this time, Huang says, because there are fewer rumors. But he admits that he's thinking about stockpiling star anise, just in case.

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This article is about an anise-like spice. For the evergreen shrub called "star anise" in the Eastern United States, see Illicium floridanum.

Star anise, star aniseed, badiane or Chinese star anise, (Chinese: 八角, pinyin bājiǎo,lit."eight-horn"; Malayalam: തക്കോലം) is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of Illicium verum, a small native evergreen tree of southwest China. The star shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening. It is widely used in Chinese cuisine, in Indian cuisine where it is a major component of garam masala, and in MalayIndonesian cuisine. It is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking. It is also a major ingredient in the making of phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup. It is used as a spice in preparation of Biryani in Andhra Pradesh, a state of southern India.

Culinary uses

Star anise contains anethole, the same ingredient which gives the unrelated anise its flavor. Recently, star anise has come into use in the West as a less expensive substitute for anise in baking as well as in liquor production, most distinctively in the production of the liquor Galliano. It is also used in the production of Sambuca, pastis, and many types of absinthe.

Medicinal uses

Star anise has been used in a tea as a remedy for rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion. As a warm and moving herb, Ba Jiao is used to assist in relieving cold-stagnation in the middle jiao, according to TCM.

Shikimic acid, a primary feedstock used to create the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, is produced by most autotrophic organisms, but star anise is the industrial source. In 2005, there was a temporary shortage of star anise due to its use in making Tamiflu. Late in that year, a way was found of making shikimic acid artificially. Roche now derives some of the raw material it needs from fermenting E. coli bacteria. The 2009 swine flu outbreak led to another series of shortages as stocks of Tamiflu were built up around the world, sending prices soaring.

Star anise is grown in four provinces in China and harvested between March and May. Its also found in the south of New South Wales. The shikimic acid is extracted from the seeds in a ten-stage manufacturing process which takes a year. Reports say 90% of the harvest is already used by the Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche in making Tamiflu, but other reports say there is an abundance of the spice in the main regions - Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan.

Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), a similar tree, is not edible because it is highly toxic (due to containing sikimitoxin); instead, it has been burned as incense in Japan. Cases of illness, including "serious neurological effects, such as seizures", reported after using star anise tea may be a result of using this species. Japanese star anise contains anisatin, which causes severe inflammation of the kidneys, urinary tract and digestive organs.