Wake up your palate and expand your cooking repertoire with spices you may not have experienced before. In this third installment of our series highlighting “sleeper” spices, learn about the unique seasoning and coloring capabilities of fennel seed — and get tips for using it to awaken your next cooking endeavor.
By Tom Havran
What it tastes like: The flavor of fennel seed and its close cousin, anise seed, are often described as licorice-like, which is actually backward. Since extracts of both are used to flavor licorice (usually in much greater quantities than licorice root), the taste of the candy should be described as anise or fennel-like. The constituent most responsible for fennel’s taste is anethol — it provides a volatile, vegetal sweetness that has a slight warming sensation.
What it looks like: Whole seeds look like ribbed, fat little parenthesis symbols, greenish tan in color. (They should not have any of the dried stem, or “whiskers” attached.) Ground fennel seed is a brownish, granular powder that has a slightly damp, oily texture when fresh.
How to use it: Sauté whole fennel seeds with ground pork and chicken. Soak seeds in water and throw on the hot coals of your grill to create a sweet, fragrant smoke for pork, chicken, fish and grilled veggies. Use ground seeds to add a fresh, aromatic sweetness to dips, dressings, sauces and gravies.
Here are a few tips about how to use the seeds:
- Nibble on fennel seeds before a meal to stimulate appetite — and after to freshen breath.
- Combine fennel seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf and coarse salt to make a brine for pork or poultry.
- Use fennel seeds as you would caraway seeds in baked breads and rolls. The flavor makes especially great garlic bread.
- Add a bit of ground fennel seed to tomato-based items like spaghetti sauce, goulash and even Bloody Marys.
What are your best recipes using fennel seeds? Share in the comments below!
About the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.