What is Fennel Seed?

Foeniculum vulgare Mill.

Common name: Sweet Fennel

Carrot Family-Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)

Fennel seeds come from the species, Foeniculum vulgare, in the carrot family. Also belonging to this species is the fennel bulb. Other spices found in the carrot family include: dill, coriander, cumin and caraway.

The so called fennel seeds are actually the fruits of the plant. This type of fruit is called a schizocarp. Inside each fruit are the actual tiny seeds. The fruit is tiny, grooved and about 4-10mm long.

Fennel Seeds myfavouritepastime.com

The odour of fennel seed is fragrant, its taste, warm, sweet and agreeably aromatic. The flavour is somewhat like anise or liquorice, but sweeter and more aromatic

The aniseed like flavour comes from an aromatic compound called anethole, which is also found in anise and star anise, which have stronger flavours.

Fennel seed is brown or green when fresh, slowly turning dull grey to yellowish brown, with yellow ridges, as the seeds age.

Fennel seeds: can be confused with those of anise which are similar in taste and appearance but are smaller.

The leading producers are: India, Mexico, China, Iran, Bulgaria, Syria and Morocco.

Bitter and Sweet Fennel Seeds

There are two types of fennel seeds. The  seeds of wild bitter fennel, mostly used in Central and Eastern European cuisines tastes slightly bitter and is similar to celery seeds.

The sweet fennel produces the more commonly available variety of fennel seed, which has a mild anise flavour. The two types of seed are not interchangeable.

How to Use Fennel Seeds 

Fennel seeds are used in cooking savoury dishes like rice, and sweet dishes like desserts, especially in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Middle East.

It’s a very important spice in Kashmiri, Pundit, Gujarati cooking.

You can use the seeds  whole, or lightly pounded  in a pestle and mortar to release their flavour.

You can use the seeds in breads, crackers, sausages, spicy meat mixtures, curries, cabbage dishes, rice dishes and pies.

For Indian dishes, fennel seeds are usually dry roasted or roasted in oil, to release their aromatic flavour, before other ingredients are added.

Fennel seed is an important ingredient Panch phoron and Chinese five spice powder. It is a primary flavour in Italian sausage and a primary ingredient in Absinthe, along with anise.

By Nicolas1981 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In many parts of India and Pakistan, sugar coated and uncoated fennel seeds are consumed as Mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener.

There are many brands of Fennel, herbal teas. Fennel herbal tea has a light and refreshing taste and aroma.

The seeds can also be sprouted and added to green salads.

Non-Culinary Use

  • Powdered fennel drives away fleas from dog kernels and stables.
  • Fennel is used as an ingredient in natural toothpastes.

myfavouritepastime.com Last Updated: December 06, 2018

Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

11 thoughts

  1. This is excellent information for anyone who’s been curious about using fennel. I don’t often use the seed, other than what’s in five-spice powder, but I occasionally like to slice raw fennel bulb into my salad. Not everyone likes the anise flavor, but since I love black licorice…

    1. I love cooking basmati rice with fennel seeds. It tastes so good, I sometimes just eat the rice by itself without adding any sauce. I also use fennels seeds for baking. The bulk of fennel in my house is used for cooking rice. Thanks and have a pleasant weekend, ahead!

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