Bite Beauty Spice Things Up Collection: Smoked Za’atar and Star Anise

Oh, Bite Beauty. The intensity of my love-hate relationship with this brand is second only to that of my love-hate relationship with Glossier. On paper, Bite is my ideal beauty brand. It makes nothing but lip products, offering a wide range of complex, well-balanced colors. It releases thoughtful, interesting limited-edition collections, most of which are available for months. Its lipstick formulas are comfortable on my often-dry lips. Yet I’ve had consistently bad luck with Bite lipsticks, due to their slipperiness and tendency to transfer absolutely everywhere. (See my review of Lavender Jam, which I ended up giving away.) So when Lena of Faceonomics got sent Bite’s Spice Things Up collection and very generously offered to give me the two coolest-toned shades, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I said yes (I mean, obviously), but I was prepared for disappointment.

The Spice Things Up collection (what a lazy name, honestly), inspired by “the warm shades of toasted spices,” contains eight lipsticks in Bite’s standard Amuse Bouche formula. Like the permanent Amuse Bouche lipsticks, they retail for $26 each. It would be cool if each lipstick smelled like the spice it represented, but all the lipsticks have Bite’s usual sweet lemon scent and taste, which I don’t mind at all. (It reminds me of lemon bars, one of my favorite desserts.) This collection is limited edition, but it was released two months ago and is still fully in stock, at least on Sephora’s American website. The lipsticks come in Bite’s standard dark-gray matte tubes, but the boxes, printed with mounds of colorful spices, are genuinely beautiful.

The two shades that Lena sent me are Smoked Za’atar, which Sephora describes as a “plum-chocolate,” and Star Anise, a “muted lavender.”

Smoked Za’atar on the left, Star Anise on the right.

And just for fun, here are Sephora swatches of the other six shades in the collection. Top to bottom: Pink Salt, Toasted Cardamom, Lit Turmeric, Hot Harissa, Crushed Chili, Saffron Fire.

Alas, not all the shade names correspond exactly with the spices that inspired them. As you probably know, real star anise looks like this:

I mean, fine, creative license and all that; Bite wanted to make a lavender-tinged lipstick and there aren’t many lavender-tinged spices. But the name “Smoked Za’atar” doesn’t even make sense on its own terms, because there’s no such thing. I did a quick Google search and found that the word “za’atar” can refer to a specific herb related to oregano and thyme (Origanum syriacum) or, more commonly, a Middle Eastern spice mixture including that herb. Like masala, za’atar differs in composition from region to region, but there’s one constant: the spices are toasted or sun-dried, not smoked. You can’t go into a store and buy “smoked za’atar” as you can smoked paprika. Sure, this is a small detail, but it makes the name of the lipstick feel like lazy orientalism. At least Bite got the color semi-right:

Source: Savory Spice

Sephora’s color descriptions for these two lipsticks are accurate for warm-toned people: on Christine of Temptalia, for instance, Star Anise and Smoked Za’atar do indeed look like a “muted lavender” and “plum-chocolate” respectively. Combined with my cool grayish undertones, however, both shades lean much warmer. On me, Smoked Za’atar is a deep neutral brown with hints of yellow and purple, while Star Anise is a gray-toned true nude, close to my skin tone and almost identical to my previous HG nude, Bourjois Rouge Edition in Beige Trench. This was an exciting discovery: I destashed Beige Trench earlier this year because I hated the chemical-floral fragrance, but I was hoping to find a similar nude lipstick eventually. Here’s Star Anise swatched on the left and Smoked Za’atar on the right, first in shade, then in direct sunlight:

Let’s start with the review for Smoked Za’atar, since it was the one I tried first. Photographed on its own, it does indeed look like a plummy brown…

…but when it’s swatched next to other brown lipsticks, its yellow tones come through. Below, L-R: MAC Antique Velvet, Smoked Za’atar, Revlon Fierce, and Maybelline Raging Raisin, in shade and sun. If you look closely at SZ, you can see a bit of yellow at the edges of the swatch.

I’ve now worn Smoked Za’atar twice, with a lip liner and without, and I’m sad to report that it suffers from the same weaknesses as the other Bite lipsticks I’ve tried: it’s a tiny bit streaky on my lips (as dark lipsticks often are), and it transfers very easily. As you might be able to tell from my swatches, it has a shine that Star Anise lacks, which unfortunately translates into slipperiness. Here’s a (slightly out of focus, sorry) lip swatch; you can tell that it feathers without a liner, a problem that I don’t usually have with lipsticks.

And here’s SZ (can’t help thinking of the Barthes treatise, lol) with ColourPop Lippie Pencil in Taurus, which makes the lines look a bit cleaner:

The formula isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but I think I’ll wait until the fall to wear Smoked Za’atar regularly. Both in the tube and on the lips, Bite lipsticks tend to soften in heat and firm up in cold, and SZ will probably transfer less in cooler, less humid weather. In the meantime, here’s an FOTD with mustardy eyeshadow and nightmarish humidity hair:

And with tamer hair and a reddish eye look (all I can remember is that I was wearing ABH Red Ochre in the crease):

Star Anise, on the other hand, is an absolute delight. It might be my favorite new lipstick of 2018 so far, and it’s certainly made me rethink my entire relationship with Bite.

I couldn’t have found a more suitable nude lipstick if I’d asked Bite to design one especially for me. I worried that it might be too similar to my other nude-ish lipsticks, Milani Matte Naked and Pat McGrath Madame Greige. But next to Star Anise, Matte Naked looks almost peach (and it’s one of the cooler-toned nudes at the drugstore!), while Madame Greige looks straight-up purple:

L-R: Matte Naked, Star Anise, Madame Greige.

Here it is on my lips; it’s less shiny (thus less slippery) than Smoked Za’atar, but it still has a definite shine. I have yet to see a truly matte lipstick from Bite.

Star Anise lasts a surprisingly long time for a nude lipstick: three or four hours of everyday wear (with drinking, talking, etc). And because it’s so close to my skin tone, it looks perfectly natural as it fades. Both Smoked Za’atar and Star Anise are extremely comfortable to wear; they’re not actively moisturizing, but they don’t leave my lips feeling dry, either.

Here’s Star Anise on my face just yesterday, with a few Modern Renaissance shades on my eyes and Glossier Storm on my cheeks:

And a few weeks ago, with Glossier Lily on my lids and Illamasqua Zygomatic on my cheeks. I’ve been meaning to write a quick review of Lily and Slip, but there’s been so much Glossier on my blog this year that I wanted to give it a rest for a few posts.

After my positive experience with the Spice It Up collection, I’m going to be paying more attention to Bite’s future releases. I’m already contemplating buying one of the Prismatic Pearl glosses, possibly Rose Pearl (which I’ve swatched in Sephora: it’s gorgeous) or Oyster Pearl. For now, though, I’m just happy to have two reasons not to dislike Bite anymore.

16 thoughts on “Bite Beauty Spice Things Up Collection: Smoked Za’atar and Star Anise

  1. These look nice, but it's terribly disappointing that they don't smell like the spices they're named after! I would be ALL OVER a cardamom-scented beauty product, although I suppose a whole day of star anise fragrance might get a little wearing.


  2. I found my Rose Pearl gloss gritty because of all the glitter – though definitely gorgeous. I do love my Pink Pearl multistick.I'm glad to see that you swatched all of the collection – a lot of the photos I've seen of swatches are on warm, darker people and I wasn't getting a good feel for the collection. Star Anise looks especially lovely on you!


  3. I love them both. I think my coloring is sorta similar to yours-I think I'll have to try at least Star Anise. My perfect nude eludes me so maybe this one is it? What's 1 more tube of lipstick/gloss when I already have so many??


  4. I waited all year to see what Bite's LE Gemini release would be and was so annoyed when it turned out to be a split-colour bullet. Such a lazy concept and hard to use! I've felt a bit grumpy with Bite ever since because I'm petty, but Lit Turmeric is definitely calling my name…


  5. Ugh, the Gemini lipstick was so disappointing! I feel your pain. If they were going to make a two-toned lipstick, they could at least have chosen two shades that went well with each other. There's no way to apply the red and nude separately, and they just look weird together. I'm waiting eagerly for the Scorpio lipstick, but I have a feeling it will be a patchy dark purple.


  6. The perfect nude is so hard to find! I don't wear nude lipsticks very often because I think darker lipsticks are more flattering to my high-contrast coloring, but it's nice to have a reliable nude (or two) for smoky-eye days. I like that Matte Naked goes with my warmer eye looks and Star Anise with my cooler ones.


  7. Thanks, that's good to know about Rose Pearl. Grittiness in glosses is less of a dealbreaker for me than stickiness, but it's certainly not desirable. It's a shame that I can't try before buying (there's NO WAY I'd ever use a gloss tester in Sephora).


  8. My current lip balm is actually cardamom-scented! It was $1.99 at Whole Foods, from some hippie company called Soothing Touch. The flavor is called Vanilla Chai, but it's very cardamom-heavy. It reminds me of the chai lattes from the Rao's in the MHC library.


  9. I'm glad you finally found something you like from my favorite lipstick brand! I have 22 shades from them, but entirely minis (point perks, the birthday gift and their holiday mini sets which inevitably go on sale). Both these colors seriously look like they were made for you. In terms of avoiding feathering and slippage with the bolder shades, I tend to not draw them to the very edge. Rather, I apply the color to just inside my lips and then I tap it with my finger to the edge. The colors are so pigmented, I find that I still end up with a perfectly even-looking application, but the color isn't so heavy on the edge of my lips that it could spill outside the line. Hopefully that description made sense! I also blot with a square of toilet paper because I'm fancy like that.


  10. I'm glad these colours look so good on you, because I love them in the bullet but know that they would look like garbage on me. Vicarious satisfaction! I really like the idea for this collection but I don't think any of the colours would totally work for me – save for Hot Harissa, but the custom Bite shade I got in January is too similar. Money saved, I guess.(I also echo the frustration with the Gemini lipstick. I honestly think the Zodiac collection peaked with Aquarius…)


  11. I was hoping they'd do a double-ended lipstick for Gemini, like they did with the Sour Cherry/Gold and Jam/Opal duos. I would have been all over that! Hopefully the Scorpio one is a lot better.


  12. Yeah, it's an odd assortment of shades: a few very warm ones and a few very cool ones, with not much in the middle. And I agree about the Zodiac collection: I'm struggling to see how some of the shades even connect to their signs (e.g. Pisces as a brownish peach). Making Gemini two-toned was a little too obvious, I think!


  13. Ugh same! I actually bought and returned the Gemini lipstick (which I basically never do) because it worked together so poorly. I am interested in Lit Turmeric too, though. Trying to resist, but pretty sure I don't have a dupe…


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