Uses of Fennel Seed
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Wayne
Posted on: September 13, 2000

I am currently a culinary arts student at Cerritos College. If it is possible, I need to have as much information as I can on fennel seed: its uses, origin and anything else you might have. If at all possible, I need this info by Friday, Sept 15.

One could write endlessly about fennel because it is such a versatile herb. There are many books that cover in much greater detail all of the properties and uses of fennel seed and the fresh leaves and bulbs in cooking.

Fennel belongs to one of three botanical families important to herbs, the parsley family, also known as the carrot family. As is typical of the family (known formerly as the Umbelliferae, and now by the newer name, the Apiaceae), the seeds and leaves are highly aromatic. The aroma, as well as the flavour and medicinal action, derive from the plant’s volatile oils found in the seeds and the leaves.

The herb has a special action on the digestive system, helping to stimulate it, improve assimilation, and reduce flatulence; which is why the fresh leaves are used to flavour hard-to-digest foods such as oily fish and why the seeds are chewed after spicy Indian meals. An old remedy for baby’s colic and flatulence made from the seeds is still in common use today.

The flavour is licorice or anise-like, but less so than anise seeds. The seeds are added to bread and pastries for flavour, and the leaves are are added to soups, salads, sauces and on fish, especially mackerel and eel.

There are several varieties of fennel. The sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare dulce) is the common form grown for both the seeds and the fresh leaves. There is a bronze-coloured form (F. vulgare dulce ‘Rubrum’) that is both aromatic and attractive as a garden plant. And then there is the completely different form, the Florence fennel (F. vulgare azoricum), which is grown principally for the fleshy, swollen stems at the base of the plant that are eaten like a vegetable. The delicate anise flavour of the vegetable fennel is a favourite in Italy. It is sliced raw in salads, sauteed or quartered and added to chicken casseroles.

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