Fennel is the best known member of the anise family here in Europe. I'm not fond of any anise-like herbs.
Ripe fennel fruits
Dried fennel fruits (often
incorrectly named "fennel seeds"
The popularity of the plant spread northwards across Europe during the Middle Ages, when it was grown in accordance with Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis.
Fruits (usually misnamed "seeds"). Unlike most of their relatives, they retain a green colour after drying and as a rule of thumb, a bright green colour indicates a good quality. In Italy and also in California there is small-scale usage of fennel pollen as the expensive and extravagant spice "spice of the angels". The leaves and stalks of fennel can be eaten as a vegetable. Italian breeds with fleshy stem and leaves for use as a vegetable are referred to as "Florentine fennel" or "finocchio" in English, but finocchio means any type of fennel in Italian.
Apiaceae (parsley family).
Sweet and aromatic, similar to anise. Fennel pollen has a subtle fennel flavour, lacking some of the sweetness but with a distinct note of pine needles.
The genus name foeniculum (Latin for "little hay") probably refers to the aroma of fennel and is the source of the name of fennel in many modern European languages, e.g. German fenchel, Italian finocchio, Portuguese funcho, Swedish fänkål, Dutch venkel, Finnish fenkoli and Russian fenkhel. Species name vulgare is Latin for "common".
Some languages do not distinguish clearly between fennel and anise, e.g. Romanian anason dulce and Turkish raziyane. In Amharic the name insilal may mean fennel, anise or dill. In Hebrew, the term shumar "fennel" may also used for anise, although there is a separate name for the latter, anis. Moreover, dill has the similar name shamir and to make matters even more confusing shamir is the name of fennel in Arabic. Some European languages name fennel as a "pharmaceutical" variant of dill, e.g. Estonian apteegitill and Russian aptechnyi ukrop "pharmacy-dill".
In Hindi, anise and fennel are often synonymously called saunf, although only fennel is a common spice in Indian cuisine. To distinguish the two, fennel is also called moti saunf "thick fennel" because its fruits are larger. The closely related Urdu has the distinct names saunf "fennel" and anisuan "anise".
The Indonesian name jintan manis "sweet cumin" (also applied to anise) reflects the greater importance of cumin, of which fennel is considered a variety. Similar forms are French aneth doux, Hungarian édeskömény "sweet caraway" and Russian sladkij ukrop "sweet dill". Anise, cumin, dill and caraway all belong to the apiaceae plant family and are similar in shape and fragrance.
The Modern Greek name for fennel, maratho, can be traced back to the Ancient Greek marathon. Derivatives found elsewhere in Southern Europe are Albanian marac, Bulgarian morach and Romanian mărar (which subsequently changed its meaning to "dill", again reflecting the confusion between those two plants).
Another group of related names can be spotted in the tongues of Western Asia: Turkish rezene, Bulgarian rezene, Kurdish dhaziana and Farsi razianeh, but the origin of these is unknown.
Fennel fruits, often incorrectly referred to as "fennel seeds", are an ancient spice of the Mediterranean known by the Greeks for three millennia. Over time fennel usage spread both widely and fennel is now part of Northern European cookery as well as that of Eastern Asia. Quite often salty foods receive only a small dash of fennel, so the herb’s importance is easily overlooked.
Being a main component of Chinese five spice (wu xiang fen), fennel is firmly rooted in Chinese cuisine, although it is hardly ever used alone. Besides Chinese five spice, it is often found in spice mixtures employed for long-cooked stews and in master sauce.
Fennel is important in several regional cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Bengal where it is part of the typical five spice mix panch phoron. In Kashmir, duck is flavoured with toasted fennel and in Sri Lanka toasted fennel fruits are one of the typical ingredients responsible for the subtle and complex aroma of hot chilli curries. The toasting procedure increases the flavour of fennel and also changes its flavour to one more spicy and less sweet.
Fennel is much used recipes from Iran, Arabia and the Levant and is also well established in Central Europe where it is chiefly used to flavour rye breads. The combination of sweet fennel and earthy bread is particularly delightful. Fennel is often used for pickled vegetables and herbed vinegar and forms part of many sweet pastries.
As fennel is native to the Mediterranean, it is most typical for the cuisines of Southern Europe. Although used for meats and poultry, its traditional use is for fish and seafood. Fennel is popular in Southern France and contained in the Provençal spice mixture herbes de Provence.
Italians are particularly fond of fennel, employing it in many different foods, especially sausages and pasta sauces. Together with thyme and oregano it is used in the olive oil based marinades for vegetables and sea foods. Marinated vegetables are eaten as appetisers (antipasti), with white bread and red wine.
Fennel pollen has a spicy scent that best complements the fruity flavours found in Italian food such as risotto, where fennel pollen is often combined with tomatoes and a hint of thyme. Being less robust than fennel fruits, fennel pollen should be added late in the cooking process or just before serving.