Fennel is a fantastic vegetable.
You can find it at the market as fresh produce, but what about the seeds that are used for seasoning?
While we’ve already taken a look at the bulbs and fronds of fresh fennel in this article, let’s focus now on fennel seed as a spice!
Despite the innate difference between using the bulbs, fronds, and seeds, all parts of the fennel plant share a similar flavor. The seeds provide an anise-like aroma with fresh and sweet nuances, just as the bulb does.
A Pinch of History
Fennel is possibly one of the oldest known spices in the world. We can follow its traces back to 3000 B.C.
This means that if we travelled back in time, we would find the Mesopotamians using it for culinary and medicinal reasons already. People from the Middle Ages also appreciated its taste and healing powers for digestive troubles, just as we do nowadays.
In fact, products that include fennel as an ingredient today are incredibly versatile. You can find it in cough drops and lozenges as well as in toothpaste, soap, liquor or even – really popular as a European delicacy from the south – fennel salami.
Preparing and Storing Your Seeds
What’s the best way to work with this spice in your kitchen? Grind the whole seeds directly before use. This way, you can achieve full flavor in your dish, since they will release their essential oils right at that moment.
With a suitable mortar and pestle set at hand, you are able to enjoy all the benefits that freshly ground spices can offer. Don’t have your own set already? Check out Foodal’s informative post.
When storing the seeds, be sure to keep them in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight. For storage, it is best to use a small glass jar that can be sealed airtight.
Looking for a new spice rack to store these, along with the rest of your seasoning collection? Take a look at Foodal’s review of the best models on the market today.
Fennel makes a great combination with many other flavors and foods. Since fennel is such an ancient spice, there are already many well-known traditional blends and combinations
Fennel seeds are part of the famous Chinese five spice powder that includes star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves. This mixed spice has a wonderfully balanced yet intense flavor, with warming notes.
A second famous combination: the Bengali blend called panch phoron. It is made of fennel seed, black mustard, fenugreek, nigella, and cumin seeds.
Some variations might substitute black cumin for the nigella, also known as black caraway. The sweet notes of fennel with the heat of the mustard, along with the bitterness of fenugreek, make this mix exceptional.
Indian cuisine often utilizes these seeds as an ingredient, too. Beyond seasoning curries and chutneys, it is also common to chew on fennel seeds to freshen up your breath after an Indian meal, sometimes seeds that have been candied or coated with pastel-colored sugar.
In some recipes, fennel seed can be used as a substitute for the fresh variety, if it’s not available in your local grocery store or farmers market.
At home, try combining the spice with vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, or cucumber. It pairs very well with these foods – but really, it goes great with almost all kinds of savory dishes.
For example: fish is not only a perfect dish to serve fresh fennel with, it also makes a wonderful flavor combination with the seeds.
Flavoring meatballs is another fabulous and classic way to try out this spice. Or, use it to jazz up marinades, dressings, and barbecue or dipping sauces, by adding some coarsely crushed seeds.
A great recommendation for bread-baking friends: put some fennel seeds into the dough of your rye, whole wheat, or sweet quick bread, to give it a special added touch of flavor.
Fennel seed can often be used interchangeably with anise, and it’s sometimes used to flavor sweet Italian Easter bread, along with citron or other candied fruits, and crunchy blanched almonds.
A Sprinkling of Health Benefits
Fennel seeds contain healing essential oils that release the moment you grind, chew, or crush them. These oils can have a positive impact on your digestive system. This has to do with the fact that the seeds contain – just like anise – the essential oil anethole, plus another compound known as fenchole.
Fenchole works as an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, as an expectorant and for easing coughs (1).
That is why fennel can be useful as a natural cough remedy during a cold. Plus, the essential oils are calming in the case of gastrointestinal troubles, and can help with bloating related to digestive or female complaints.
Valuable substances like calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium make it a nutritious choice, too. Whether you season your dishes with the seeds or you have them as a tea, you can be sure to add some potential for healthy improvements here.
An herbal tea mixed with fennel, anise, and caraway can improve the conditions listed above too, because of the interaction of essential oils.
As anethole, the main essential oil in anise, has similar qualities to fenchole and works as an anti-bacterial, with the capability to positively influence the intestinal motility, the helpful effects can be of even greater use (1).
However, you can also enjoy the pure version of fennel tea. You’ll find an easy recipe for a homemade brew below.
Drink some of it in case you suffer from cough during a cold, or from light stomach problems – or just because you enjoy the flavor.
Make Your Own Homemade Brew
Making your own fennel seed tea doesn’t require lots of time or equipment. All you need is one teaspoon of fennel seeds per cup of tea.
1. Bring water to a boil and pour over the seeds. Leave to infuse for 7-10 minutes.
2. Strain and pour the tea into your cup or mug. Enjoy on its own, or with a dash of honey if you like.
In summary, fennel seeds are a great choice for all kinds of dishes, sweet as well as savory.
Mediterranean and the Indian cuisine make use of it quite often, and the seasoning is well-suited for use in dishes that include fish, meat, or vegetables.
Plus, when used medicinally as a tincture or tea, it can help to relax the throat or stomach.
What do you think? Have you ever used fennel seeds before in a tea? How do you combine the spice in recipes? Or don’t you like its distinct flavor?
Let me know if these are part of your seasoning routine, and what you like to use them for. Share your thoughts and comments below!
1. Werner, Monika and Ruth von Braunschweig. “Praxis Aromatherapie. Grundlagen – Steckbriefe – Indikationen.” Haug Verlag: Stuttgart, 2014. Pp. 80, 125.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.