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Sweet and light anise flavor, used in fish stocks and sauces or as season in salami and sausages, sometimes used in baking; an ingredient in the Chinese five spice powder.

Fennel is a perennial European herb, common in the Mediterranean, where leaves and seeds have been employed since distant past. The fragrant, feathery leaves are used as an aromatic herb. The seeds are used as a seasoning, imparting their delicate aniseed flavor whenever fresh leaves are unavailable. The bulbous stem of Florence fennel (finochia) is a vegetable and the stalks are used as celery stalks.

How to Identify fennel

The condiment we usually call fennel are the small, dried, greenish to light-brown seeds of the common fennel, a robust perennial often grown as annual. The plant can reach up to 8 ft (2.5 m) and it has a short, solid stem with fine, feathery leaves; in mid to late summer, petite yellow flowers emerge in large umbrella-like clusters.

The seeds are used as a condiment, the leaves as an aromatic herb, and the dried stalks as a flavoring. Native to the Mediterranean, fennel is now cultivated worldwide.

How to use and store

The seeds are available whole and are easily ground if desired. Follow the general advice and store the seeds in a dark place, cupboard or pantry, inside an airtight container. The leaves are used fresh. The leaves do not dry well; the stalks can be dried at home. Choose bright green leaves and keep in the fridge, inside a plastice bag. In this way the leaves will keep upt o 5 days.

The stalks and bulb of the Florence fennel are used very much like celery. Eat them raw in salads, braise or saute them, or cook them in soups.

Flavor fish stocks, soups and sauces, grilled fish and pork with the seeds; flavor breads, cakes, and pastries. Fennel seeds are an ingredient in sausages and salami, in Chinese five-spice powder, in sweet pickling spices, and some curries. Fennel is also used in teas.

How to grow

It is easy to grow in a Mediterranean kitchen garden. In northern climates, the plant needs some protection. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, with good drainage. The seeds are sown in the spring. The seedlings need to be thinned to 18 in (45 cm) to prosper. The seed-heads, harvested in late summer and early autumn, should be left to dry in paper bags, in a well-ventilated place.

The Florentine fennel (foeniculum vulgare azoricum) is an annual plant. It requires a long and warm summer for the bulb to grow.

Cooking with fennel

A fennel and potato cream is very easy to prepare. The baked snapper with black olives takes you to the blue Mediterranean sea. Fennel and fatty fish are a good pairing, see how with this sardines in breadcrumbs.

Try fennel with lamb or goat meat. Adding fennel when cooking beans makes them more digestible. Garnish a seafood salad with fresh fennel leaves.

Sardines in breadcrumbs

24 sardines or pilchards, cleaned, deboned and opened to make them flat. Wash the sardine fillets, drain adn pat dry. Fill with a mixture of chopped garlic and fennel, close, soak in beaten egg, cover in breadcrumbs and fry in plenty of very hot olive oil. Mix also the breadcrumbs with chopped fennel for more flavor.

Tip - hold the sardines together with a cocktail stick.

Fennel substitution

If a recipe calls for fresh fennel leaves and you don't have them, substitute 1 Tbs chopped fresh fennel leaves with:

  • 1 Tbs chopped hoja santa leaves
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh dill leaves
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves

If a recipe calls for fennel seeds and you don't have them, substitute 1 tsp fennel seeds with:

  • 1 tsp aniseed seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds - not so sweet flavor
  • 1 tsp dill seeds - not so strong anise flavor
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds - earth aroma
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds - different and more simple aroma.

foeniculum vulgare (umbelliferae) - fennel - French: fenouil, anet douce - German: Fenchel - Italian: finochio - Spanish: hinojo.


Fennel goes well with fish. A sweet aniseed aroma permeates the air when fennel leaves and stalks are used to enhance the flavor of mullet, or sardines, cooked outdoors, on an open fire. The leaves are also used to lighten the richness of fatty meats, like pork. The seeds improve the flavor of sausages and salamis.

The use of fennel is limited in eastern cuisine, where only the seeds find their way into some curries, the Chinese five-spice powder, or the Indian pa'an, a digestive aid. The used of fennel stalks in Thai vegetable curries is very recent and not yet extended.