A fast fave, add a pinch to herb seasoning blends, or anything that needs a little stronger fennel love without more expensive, and delicate fennel pollen.
Fennel is a wonderful aromatic, but I keep it real here: I’m not a big fan of pre-ground spices. Seeds are wonderful containers of essential oils. When you grind them, those essential oils can stay fresh, for a time, in an airtight container, but, once it’s opened, and those oils begin to oxygenate, you lose a whole lot of the freshness and nuance of a spice like fennel seed with every passing day.
Unless you use ounces at a time, per recipe, it would be better to buy the whole seeds, a good spice grinder and a quality pan. Toast the seeds on medium heat for a few minutes, shaking or stirring to turn them. That brings up the flavor of those essential oils. Then grind them, and add that ground to your recipe.
Fennel has a mildly anise-like odor that comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise. It is significantly amplified when the seeds are lightly toasted, activating the essential oils with the aromatic.
Fennel is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but it grows wild today in many parts of the world, usually in dry soils near bodies of water, like a coastline, or a riverbank.
The first recorded history of fennel is medicinal, by the Roman writer of The Natural History, Pliny (AD 23-79), who used it to treat nearly two dozen different ailments.
In the 1300s, the spice was in common use culinarily, throughout South Asia. It found its way to Europe, both as a condiment, and an appetite suppressant. They also became a part of religious festivals, and the foods prepared for them. Baked breads, cookies, and other treats that have fennel seed often have their roots in religious culinary creations. People in Europe consumed the seeds from handkerchiefs during long religious services to stop hunger. The Puritans carried the seeds with them to the Americas. In the US, fennel seeds’ power to pause hunger for prayer gave them the nickname of ‘meetin’ seeds’.
Ground fennel lack the delicacy of fennel pollen, but it can be a substitute in a pinch.
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