Culinary Arts

What Is Fennel? Benefits of Fennel Plus Easy Recipe and Cooking Ideas

Written by MasterClass

Apr 24, 2019 • 2 min read

The fennel flavor spectrum is wide: either it’s full-on anise—that pungent kick of black licorice flavor that you hated as a kid and now kind of dig since you learned to appreciate pastis and absinthe—or it’s mild and pleasantly verdant. Fennel is as fennel does. It’s here to make you happy.

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What Is Fennel?

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a perennial herb that belongs to the carrot family. Though its thick stalks with feathery leaves and bright poofs of yellow flowers are native to the Mediterranean region, they grow wild on the side of roads everywhere from Italy to California to Australia, where it’s earned full-on invasive weed status.

The most common cultivated fennel plant is called Florence fennel, and most parts of the plant are edible: while the hollow fennel stalks can be a bit tough, its edible white bulb is treated as a vegetable and its leaves (which are similar in consistency to dill), fruits (colloquially called seeds), pollen, and essential oils are incorporated into dishes all over the world.

Ideas for Fennel Recipes

Fresh fennel bulbs have a celery-esque crunchy texture when eaten raw, but when roasted or braised, they turn silky. Bright green fresh fennel leaves add an aromatic, bittersweet pop of flavor as a garnish to rich savory or sweet dishes, or incorporated into salads and sauces. When making a roast chicken (like Chef Gordon Ramsay’s perfect roasted chicken, recipe here), add wedges of chopped fennel bulb into the pan, along with shallots and garlic halved lengthwise; as the chicken crisps up, the roasted fennel will turn golden brown and soak up all pan juices, caramelizing to a near-melted consistency.

How to Cook With Fennel Seeds

The dried pale green or light brown seed you might recognize from your spice rack—the one that looks a lot like cumin and caraway—is an aromatic spice known as fennel, with a flavor similar to (and often confused with) that of sweet anise seed.

Fennel seeds are an important seasoning throughout India, Afghanistan, Iran, and the rest of the Middle East, seen in blends like garam masala or panch phoron, as well as Chinese five spice powder. It’s also the main flavoring in many Italian sausages.

What Are the Health Benefits of Fennel?

Fennel is super high in dietary fiber, covering more than 25 percent of your daily value, as well as potassium, which is crucial in maintaining low blood pressure. It’s got vitamins A, C, B6, and a host of others, reining in those free radicals that lead to premature aging.

Fennel and apple salad with greens on rustic wood


Simple Fennel Salad Recipe

Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min

This bright, acidic side dish captures all the mellow sweetness of raw fennel in contrast with the tangy apple slices and nutty, creamy Parmesan.

  • 1–2 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of the stalks (but save a few green fronds for garnish!)
  • ½–1 tart apple, preferably Granny Smith
  • 2 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh-shaved Parmesan cheese
  1. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, remove the cores, then cut crosswise into paper-thin slices. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Cut the apple into equally thin slices and add to the bowl with the sliced fennel.
  3. Drizzle the olive oil over the prepared ingredients, followed by the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Garnish with generous shaves of Parmesan and fennel fronds.