What does fennel taste like? I asked a friend last year while we were eating a salad at a local restaurant. He said something like, "it tastes kind of vanilla-y." That didn't sound right! Well, he was just as confused as I was! Turns out we were both right.
There you have it — the main reason for this post! This introduction to the fennel bulb answers important questions: "what is fennel?" "where does it come from," and how to use this versatile ingredient. I also share a recipe for simple roasted fennel to try at home.
What is fennel?
Also known as sweet anise, Fennel is an early spring vegetable in the carrot family native to the Mediterranean region. You can use the entire plant for its aromatic, black licorice-like flavor profile.
A common ingredient in Italian and French cooking, fennel has a licorice scent that pairs well with seafood and pork. Eat this bulbous vegetable raw or cooked—it has a crunchy texture that can be used in place of celery.
A fennel bulb is the base of the plant, at the bottom of the stalks. It may be white or light green and looks similar to celery. Fennels bulbs are usually eaten raw, although they may be cooked. The rest of the plant is edible (and tasty) as well.
No, fennel is not the same herb as anise. Anise is similar to licorice in taste and smell, while fennel has a more complex taste that some say is a mix of licorice and mint.
Both anise and fennel have seeds used for flavoring desserts and liquor.
Fennel takes like licorice but has notes of mint and vanilla, unlike anise.
Fennel has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor that works well with rich meats like duck or pork belly. It's a great addition to soups and broths because it's light enough not to overpower more delicate flavors like chicken stock or broth.
Fresh fennel is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. The bulb, stalks, and fronds are all edible. The feathery fronds are great as an herb to add flavor to salads, soups, and fish dishes.
The stalk is similar to celery and can be used in soups and stews, while the bulb is usually braised or sautéed like cabbage.
Fennel tastes like licorice root or black jellybeans with notes of mint and honey.
This veggie has a crisp texture when raw, and the fennel's flavor changes with how it's cooked—it gets sweeter when roasted but more bitter when sautéed. Culinary experts often describe fennel as having a sweet licorice-like flavor.
The entire fennel plant is edible. Fennel has three different parts: the seeds and the bulb and it. It is what is known as a dual-purpose vegetable. The Feathery leaves or fronds are edible too and have a natural sweetness.
Fennel seeds are aromatic and slightly sweet, with a flavor similar to anise. The bulbs are crunchy and juicy, with a fresh, milder flavor.
Fennel has a unique flavor profile in its raw state. Its bright taste and fresh licorice flavor of uncooked fennel are in full first, but a different flavor comes out when the plant is cooked.
Cooking with fennel
Look no further than fennel if you're looking for an easy way to add texture and a slightly sweet taste to your favorite dishes. It's great raw or cooked, and it goes well with other root vegetables like carrots and celery.
Try roasting it with olive oil and salt until crisp-tender. You can also grill fennel—toss wedges in olive oil and season with salt before grilling over high heat until charred. Finally, add fennel to soups or stews for a sweet anise flavor!
Fennel is a great vegetable for the home cook. Fennel is used in a variety of dishes, including salads and stir-fries.
It's great as a side dish or eaten raw. Fennel is also used to flavor baked goods, fish, and sausages.
To prepare the fennel, cut off the stalks (save them to use in soups or stocks) and then cut the white bulb in half. Before thinning, use a small paring knife to remove any tough outer layers or brown spots.
If you're serving your fennel raw, sprinkle with olive oil and lemon juice or vinaigrette dressing for added flavor.
Fennel does not have an exact substitute for its unique flavor, but you can use celery or celeriac (celery root) if you don't have any on hand.
You can also roast the fennel by tossing slices with olive oil and salt, then baking at 400°F and roast for 15-20 minutes or until tender.
Roasted fennel tastes great when paired with chicken, fish, pork chops, or other protein! Add some chopped garlic cloves for extra flavor if desired.
Working with Fennel
How to Select and Store It Fennel
Grocery stores will normally carry fennel and it's easy to find year-round. Look for compact bulbs free of splitting, browning, or wilting signs. If buying fennel with the stalks attached, choose those with bright green stalks that are firm.
When selecting fresh fennel fronds, choose those that are fresh-looking and not wilted. Store fresh fennel in your refrigerator's vegetable crisper drawer in a plastic bag for
How should I cut fennel?
Fennel is a versatile vegetable and is great in raw and cooked dishes. To cut it for salads and raw applications:
- Using a sharp knife, chop off the stalks at the bulb's base and discard them.
- Slice off the bottom root end of the bulb and discard that, too.
- Cut each bulb half lengthwise, then lay each half flat side down on your cutting board.
- Thinly slice crosswise, working from one end to the other and keeping them in their original half shapes.
For smaller pieces, you can also quarter each half before slicing crossways.
Cut off stalks along, then cut the bulb into wedges or strips for cooking. If you're not going to eat the fennel right away, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three days.
Roasted fennel is a great way to get the most out of your fennel bulb—and it's so easy to make! You can eat this dish as a hearty side, or sprinkle some parmesan on top for a simple vegetarian main.
- ½ cup vegetable stock
- 2 bulbs fennel, quartered and core removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
Roasted fennel is a delicious alternative to roasted vegetables like cauliflower or brussels sprouts, especially if you're looking for something with a bit more flavor.
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Place the fennel on a baking sheet.
- Pour the stock over it.
- Drizzle olive oil over the fennel, add thyme, and season with salt and pepper.
- Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
Fresh fennel is delicious, a little bit like licorice, and can be eaten raw; but cooking it does something magical. Roasting fennel results in a tender, toothsome texture, with sweet and savory notes. It's an easy way to brighten up any dish—or make a simple meal into something special.
I like to serve roasted fennel with creamy polenta. The flavors are complementary, and you get a range of textures from the soft cooked fennel and polenta, to the crunchy pieces of roasted fennel.
This dish is also great with poached eggs and your favorite leafy green salad.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 75Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 180mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 1g