Fennel is an interesting plant that looks a lot like dill. It’s unique because it’s completely edible—from its leaves to the bulb and even its pollen.
It usually comes out in the fall season and can be used for a variety of dishes and brings an added texture and flavor to them.
You can either have fennel seeds, fennel fronds (or leaves), or fennel stalks. They can be used in salads, slaw, as a marinade, and fennel pies. The seeds work best in crackers and different types of bread. They’re also used in soup and sauces.
If you can’t get your hands on fennel but desperately need it for a new recipe—you can use a fennel replacement instead. Here are some of the most common foods that you can use instead of fennel, and some other relevant information about the plant.
Fennel seeds have a ginger-like taste with a tinge of nuttiness. They’re usually used to bring a burst of flavor to foods.
If you’ve tasted celery bottom—fennel is a mixture of the taste of celery bottom and onions. It’s also very aromatic and leaves a perfume-y scent.
It can also be described as having an anise-like flavor. It’s sweet, similar to the taste of licorice. It’s part of the carrot family—which explains its sweet undertones.
An important aspect to remember when it comes to replacing fennel with a substitute is that each part of the plant has a different substitute.
Replacing Fennel Fronds
If you’re looking to replace the tiny fennel leaves, you can use parsley or dill. They have a taste and aroma similar to fennel.
Replacing Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds can be replaced with anise seeds, caraway, cumin, and dill seeds. In fact, you can also use liqueurs such as Pernod. If you have fennel oil on hand, it can be added to any recipe calling for fennel seeds to give you the same flavor.
Celery or Bok Choy
If your recipe asks for fresh funnel, then bok choy stems or celery stalks work as an acceptable substitute. Celery is preferable because it takes a short amount of time to cook. If you’ve got fennel seeds on hand but not the bulb—one teaspoon of seeds is enough to replace about half a kg of fennel bulb.
If you need fennel bulbs for a salad, celery is your best and closest substitute in terms of flavor and aroma. It’s also a good replacement for fennel in soups and stir fried vegetables.
On the other hand, use bok choy when you’re going for a savory recipe. It tastes a bit stronger than fennel, so you might want to be careful with the quantity and add a small amount at a time.
Red onions not only look similar to fennel, they work as a decent replacement. They are more mild than fennel, however, and may not work for savory recipes. They’re perfect for salads and other dishes that don’t need to be cooked.
If you do want to use onions but have to cook, then white onions can work. If you sautée them, it brings out a fennel-like flavor and can be used in salads, sauces, and even Mexican cuisine.
Parsley or Leeks
This one might be a go-to for many because it is the easiest substitute to get your hands on. It works as a decent substitute for fennel in both cooked and raw dishes. If you do opt for parsley, find one that has bright green leaves so bring out the most flavor.
Cutting them into small pieces will enhance how much taste it adds to your dish.
Leeks work great in savory dishes, soups, and casseroles. The only issue you might face is that leeks are hard to clean and prepare before cooking. They also need to be fresh and crispy to resemble the taste of fennel.
Tips and Tricks
When purchasing fennel, go for the ones that feel firm and a bit heavy compared to their size. Look for ones with several packed layers—they’re the ones that give you the best taste and bring the most flavor to your dishes.
If you’re worried about running out of fennel—you can store it in a crisper drawer for about a week. Make sure that you lightly plastic wrap the bulbs beforehand.
Fennel is a wonderful plant that can be used in numerous ways for different cuisines. The best part about it is that it has a variety of alternatives that have all sorts of uses. Hopefully, one of the above-mentioned ideas will come in handy if you ever run out of fennel.