Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and subsequently spread farther north into Europe and also to the Far East. There are two primary types – sweet fennel and bitter fennel. Bitter fennel is more common in the US and is cultivated in Argentina, central Europe, Germany, Hungary, India and Russia. Our bitter fennel is grown in India.
Bitter fennel is a member of the Apiaceae family (parsley family) and the scientific name is Foeniculum vulgare Mill. Fennel Seeds are ridged and oval in shape and the color is pale or bright green to brownish yellow in color. 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.
Fennel seeds (also called the fruit) are actually a spice, while the edible roots, stalks and leaves of the plant are considered an herb. We also carry Cracked Fennel. The bulb-like vegetable known as fennel, Florence fennel or Italian fennel while related to the herb fennel and similar in flavor is not the same plant.
A popular spice in the Mediterranean and European regions, fennel is known as “the fish herb” by Italian and French cooks. The French use them in fish soups, vinagrettes and in some versions of their popular Herbs de Provence blend. The Italians like adding them to meatballs, pasta sauces, pizza, pepperoni, salami, sambuca and sausages. Arabs use them to flavor breads and salads while the Spanish prefer them in baked goods.
In 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 grind them weekly in small batches for optimum flavor. We recommend adding 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.
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.