Here’s the Bartender’s reflections on fennel. We’re a bit behind because her computer decided to go on strike for several days… She’ll catch up. But in the meantime, mmmm, fennel seed!
Originating in the sunny Mediterranean, fennel seeds are now grown around the globe and find their way into everything from savory sausage to breath fresheners to fusion treats.
This herb—a member of the carrot family—grows from seed to bulb, and the plant can be used nearly in its entirety. Toast and grind the seeds for general cooking, saute or roast the bulb, and gather the pollen to make a delicately licorice-y topper on your favorite pasta, that you toss with the fennel fronds for added flavor.
Because of its licorice taste, fennel is often confused with anise, but they are not the same thing at all. Fennel, as stated, grows into a bulb. Anise seed grows into a bush that looks sort of like Queen Anne’s Lace. The only part of anise that is edible are the seeds, while fennel gives of its whole self. Anise is somewhat sweeter, so it lends itself more readily to sweets and cookies, while fennel fares better in heartier, more dinner-y food…though fennel has been known to find its way into the occasional cookie. And at last! Here’s the similarity you’ve all been waiting for: Fennel and anise do belong to the same family of plants, the Apiaceae, so they’re sort of…cousins. Identical cousins, I think you’ll find.
For those of you who don’t get that joke, make friends with Nick at Nite. Get back to me. I’ll wait.
While we enjoy fennel seed for its flavor, when we eat it we get the bonus of several health benefits. Fennel is naturally high in fiber—a tablespoon of fennel has about 2.3 grams of fiber in it, which is between 6-9% of daily recommended fiber, depending on your caloric needs—and can help keep your digestion on track. You can steep seeds in hot water to make tea which can, again, help with digestion and other digestive issues (bloating, etc). Fennel is loaded with a wide range of minerals, so it adds to our overall health and wellness, assisting in immune system health, maintaining eyesight, and helps promote good bone and cardiovascular health. And so on. Plus! Barring an allergy, there are no ill effects associated with fennel consumption, and if you eat some, your breath with smell freshy-fresh.
It may not be the most common herb in our pantries. But things can change, and there are about a hundred different reasons why more fennel = a better way of life. What are you waiting for?