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Star anise soars to surprise fame
By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-11-02 05:44

A Chinese spice that increases the flavour of food has become the centre of public attention, thanks to the growing profile of bird flu.

Star anise, a herbal fruit mainly grown in China, as well as Viet Nam, is a primary ingredient in the production of an anti-viral drug which helps to fight bird flu symptoms.

More specifically, star anise is the basic component for Shikimic acid.

Shikimic acid is the base material for the production of Tamiflu, the only drug available that combats the deadly strain of avian flu, which some fear may kill millions of humans.

The new market value and soaring fears of a Tamiflu shortage have triggered a price surge for star anise in its main production regions of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guangdong, Yunnan and Fujian provinces.

In Guangxi, the price has doubled in the past week.

"It has risen from 5 yuan (US$60 cents) a kilogram to 8.2 yuan (US$1) a kilogram since October 25," said Cheng Jimin, a wholesaler in Wuzhou, who has since taken stock of 60 tons of the fruit.

"The big buyer hasn't come yet," said Cheng, referring to Roche Holding AG, the Switzerland- based drug maker of Tamiflu. "We are expecting a higher price."

The stockpiling of star anise goes against previous media reports which talked of a shortage. Some Internet reports claimed that about 90 per cent of star anise in China had been sourced by Roche.

Xu Chao, Roche Holding AG's spokeswoman in Shanghai, said the company has purchased its star anise globally, including from China.

Despite its new fame as the key ingredient of Tamiflu, star anise has rarely been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat flu. But in some Tibetan prescriptions, the star anise is used to cure influenza.

(China Daily 11/02/2005 page2)

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