Whether enjoyed as a vegetable or as a spice, fennel is a popular cooking ingredient. The intense, sweet flavor of its fruits is used to season sweet and savory dishes around the world.
Fennel as a Spice
As far as connoisseurs are concerned, it is hard to beat fennel in terms of its versatility. The fennel bulb is used as a vegetable and its fronds can be used as an herb in the same way as dill, while fennel pollen is used as an exclusive spice. The fennel fruits (often referred to as “fennel seeds”) are particularly popular. Their intense, sweet flavor is reminiscent of anise and licorice. There is evidence that the plant was known of as far back as 5000 years ago — the ancient Greeks called fennel “marathon.” The fact that this is the same as the name of a famous location near Athens is no coincidence. The Greeks defeated the Persians there in 490 BC, and are believed to have named the famous spot after the herb, which was growing in abundance in the area.
Like anise, fennel is traditionally added to bread, and is also often used in cakes and baked goods. It also lends an aromatic flavor to sweet and savory dishes from around the world. Soups, sauces, fish, pork, poultry, potatoes, onions, olives and oranges all take on a fresh, slightly bitter flavor when fennel is added. Briefly toasting the whole seeds in a dry pan will release a more intense flavor. Fennel fronds, on the other hand, should not be cooked, but rather scattered over the dish raw. Fennel tastes particularly delicious when combined with anise, caraway, coriander and garlic as these spices complement its flavor.
For a flavorsome fennel tea, crush one tablespoon of fennel seeds per cup using a pestle and mortar. Place the crushed seeds in a tea strainer and infuse them in hot water for seven minutes.
The fennel plant is believed to originally come from Sicily, where it is also found in many traditional dishes. Today, fennel is predominantly grown in China, Syria and Turkey. The plant grows to up to two meters tall and has bright green pinnate leaves that look similar to dill. There are several varieties of fennel, including bitter fennel and sweet fennel. The most exquisite representatives of the herb, though, are wild fennel and “combed” fennel. In the Middle Ages, Charlemagne ordered that fennel and a variety of other herbs had to be grown in monastery gardens. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why fennel is as widespread as it is today in Central Europe.
- Scientific Name
- Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
- Parsley family (Apiaceae)
- Other Names
- Common fennel, garden fennel
- Mediterranean region