|Fennel seeds are considered a spice, while the edible roots, stalks and leaves of the plant are considered an herb. The bulb shaped vegetable called fennel, Florence fennel or Italian fennel, while related to the herb fennel and similar in flavor, is not the same plant.
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and eventually north into Europe and into the Far East. There are two primary types of fennel – bitter fennel and sweet fennel. In the US bitter fennel is more common and is grown in Argentina, central Europe, Germany, Hungary, India and Russia. Our bitter fennel is cultivated in India.
Bitter fennel’s name is Foeniculum vulgare Mill and is a member of the Apiaceae family (parsley family). The shape of Fennel Seeds is oval and ridged while color varies from pale or bright green to brownish yellow. Fennel Seeds resemble their family member caraway seed (although a bit less curved than caraway). Our Indian grown fennel is straighter and smaller than European fennel with a sweet anise flavor. When toasted the seed becomes less sweet and a bit spicy.
Popular spice in the Mediterranean and European regions, French and Italian cooks often refer to fennel “the fish herb”. The French use fennel seeds in fish soups, in some versions of their popular Herbs de Provence blend and in vinaigrettes. Italians add them to meatballs, pasta sauces, pepperoni, pizza, salami, sambuca and sausages. Arabs prefer them in breads and salads while the Spanish use them to flavor various baked goods.
Throughout Asia fennel seeds are used to season cabbages, fish sauces, roasted lamb, mutton and pork curries, sweet and sour dishes. In India fennel seeds are toasted in oil to release their flavor where they are then used ground or whole in breads, curries, lentils, spice blends, soups and vegetables. In Kashmir ground fennel is a key ingredient in egg and fish egg curries and in Sri Lanka ground fennel is found in many hot curries and stews.
Fennel will quickly lose its flavor when ground so we recommend grinding them in small batches for optimum flavor. Add fennel at the end of the cooking process for the best flavor.
Fennel goes well with beets, lentils, potatoes, in sauerkraut, stews, meat and chicken dishes, sauces, herb butters, dips and dressings, salads, omelets, apple pie, cakes, pastries, puddings, and spiced fruit.
Fennel Seed works well in combination with cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek and Sichuan Peppercorns.
Whole fennel seeds are used in Bengali Five Spice while ground fennel is also the key ingredient in Chinese Five Spice and cracked fennel is used in our Adobo Lime Rub and our Breakfast Sausage blends.