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What is fennel?

What is fennel?

Are you a big fan of licorice? Then you’ll surely appreciate this indigenous, pleasant-smelling flowering herb!

If you’ve seen fennel seeds and bulbs at the supermarket and wondered what they are used for, now’s your chance to learn!

What is fennel?

Fennel is a culinary flowering plant and a medicinal herb with feathery green and white leaves and yellow flowers.

Indigenous to Mediterranean shores, the fennel plant, one of Italy’s most popular vegetables, is now found worldwide.

Fennel plants belong to the carrot family and are mostly found in dry soils near river banks and sea coasts. They are used in cooking and medicine because of their nutritional properties.

Fennel plants are also low in calories and contain manganese, which is essential for enzyme activation, bone development, and wound healing.

The fennel bulb also contains vitamin C with antioxidation properties and can help repair tissues, synthesize collagen, and boost the immune system’s health. The plant also contains potassium and calcium, both of which are essential for muscle and bone development.

What does fennel taste like?

Uncooked fennel bulbs and seeds have a faint licorice flavor and a crunchy taste. Some might say that the fennel flavor is similar to that of anise. The plant has a crisp texture, much identical to that of celery. When cooked, the taste of fennel becomes much more delicate and sweet, and the texture softens. However, the leaves of the fennel plant have an extremely mild and citrusy flavor.

What part of fennel do you eat?

The good news is that you can eat all parts of a fennel plant! The fennel seeds, bulb, leaves, stalks, and feathery fronds are 100% edible.However, most people find fennel stalks too tough to eat since they contain many fibers.

How to cook with fennel

There are more than a thousand ways to cook with fennel! Since all parts of the plant are edible, there are so many different ways that you can use them in your cooking. For instance, you can chop fennel leaves and add them to your salads and slaws. You can also use stalks from the plant in your soups and stews or as a bed for your lean meats. Fennel fronds can be chopped and used as a garnish. You can braise, grill, sauté, or roast the fennel bulb to soften its flavor before adding it to your dishes. Below are a few recipes that you can try out using parts of a fennel plant:

1. Crab, Fennel, and Basil Spaghetti

Sweet crab meat with anise-like fennel and warm spaghetti is a perfect light lunch for a gloomy day! 

Start by sautéing the fennel bulb in a pan in olive oil. Add red pepper, salt, and garlic. Add crab and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add boiled spaghetti, stir in parsley, and plate it out. Garnish with fennel seeds and serve!

2. Chard and Shaved Fennel Salad

Sauté a fennel bulb with lacy green fronds in a pan in olive oil. Add chard leaves and stems with ¼ cup water and cook and cover for about 2 minutes. Drain your veggies and plate them. Add apple cider vinegar, black pepper, and kosher salt. Top with fennel seeds and pistachios, and dive in!

3. Cucumber-Fennel Salad

Chop up some cucumbers and bell peppers. Add vinaigrette to your vegetables. Top them with panko breadcrumbs. Finally, garnish your salad with dill and fennel seeds for a crunchy texture and sweet licorice flavor!

4. Fennel Tea

Highly popular in South Asia, fennel tea is a warm beverage that you can enjoy every evening. It aids in digestion and reduces gas, bloating, and cramps.Crush 10 to 15 fennel seeds. Add the seeds to a saucepan containing 1 cup water. Let the mixture boil. Remove from heat, strain, stir in honey, and serve warm.  

Tips on buying fennel

  • Look for a fennel plant with large and tight pales that are either white or green.
  • Avoid buying a plant if the bulb is spotted or bruised.
  • If there are flower heads in the fronds, avoid buying the plant as it is past maturity.
  • When buying fennel seeds, look for ones that have the strongest fragrance as they are the freshest.
  • The fennel plant’s root must have a root end covering like romaine lettuce or celery plant.

The bottom line

Fennel is truly a remarkable herb, one that is very much noted for its versatility and overall usability.

I hope that by now, you’re already aware of what fennel is and how you can use it in your cooking every day. Fennel bulbs and seeds are highly nutritious, and adding them to your diet can be highly beneficial for your health!