Need a little inspiration for using fennel in the kitchen? We’ve got you covered.
We show you how to cook with fennel seeds, leaves, stalks, and more to create a wide variety of dishes. Plus, we’ve listed dozens of recipes that all feature the herb fennel.
Sweet or common fennel is the variety used by most in the kitchen.
It is different from the annual, Florentine or bulbing fennel, which is grown primarily for its swollen stem bases. This article is about cooking with herb fennel.
Fennel seed is the most common recipe ingredient, but some recipes call for fennel fronds or fennel pollen. All parts of the plant have an anise-like flavor.
Although some say, the leaves have a sweeter and richer flavor than the seeds.
Fennel seed has many uses in the kitchen. It can be used as a digestive tea or seasoning rich foods like sausage or oily fish.
Both the seeds and leaves can be used in a wide variety of vegetable, meat, and fish recipes, specialty breads, and some desserts.
How to Cook with Fennel
Using Fennel Fronds
Fennel fronds are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Pair them with fish, salads, vegetables, and bread. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Roast the fish on a bed of fennel fronds, or chop the fennel leaves directly into fish soups.
- Snip raw leaves raw into salads or using them to flavor the cooking water when you prepare rice or beans.
- Add chopped fennel fronds to flavor coleslaw.
- Use fennel instead of basil to make pesto. This recipe by Archana’s Kitchen used the fennel pesto in a potato bread recipe topped with sesame seeds. The fennel was roasted first with pinenuts and garlic to enhance the flavor.
The light, airiness of the fennel leaf make an excellent garnish for a wide range of dishes made with fennel seed.
Baking with Fennel Stems
Dried fennel stems can be baked into bread. Roast meat or fish, on a bed of fennel stalks for a more delicate hint of flavor. Or place the dried fennel stalks inside roasting poultry to flavor the meat.
Cooking with Fennel Pollen
The Sonoma County (California) Extension suggests using a fennel part I’d never heard mentioned before: pollen. For instructions on harvesting pollen, see Harvesting and Storing Fennel.
This saved pollen can then be sprinkled on pork tenderloin or vegetables before grilling or sautéing.
Toasting Fennel Seeds
Many of the recipes below call for toasted fennel seeds. Toasting fennel seeds is farily easy.
- Toast seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Shake them gently and frequently, so they don’t stick and burn.
- Let them cool before you crush or grind them.
Here a tasty biscotti recipe that uses the toasted fennel seeds: Fig and Fennel Spice Biscotti
Making Fennel Seed Tea
When I’m troubled by indigestion or gas, I make a simple fennel-seed tea to soothe my digestive system.
I’ve found this to be both aromatic and effective.
- Fill a tea ball with fennel seed.
- Pour boiling water over it.
- Let it steep for 5-10 minutes.
The tea is flavorful but not exactly sweet—you could add sugar or honey.
The BBC offers a masala chai tea recipe that’s much richer and more complex. In this version, the fennel seeds are crushed together with cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Then boiled with milk, water, and black tea.
Baking Bread with Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are good for flavoring bread. The Los Angeles Times gives a recipe for a sweet whole-grain bread featuring fennel, honey, and cherries. This is a quick bread, made with baking powder, not a yeast bread.
The BBC offers a recipe for a dark chewy no-knead yeast bread flavored with stout, cocoa, and fennel seeds. Serve it with smoked fish and fennel fronds to garnish.
Using Fennel Seed with Ground Meats
Fennel seed is one of the traditional spices used in making sweet Italian sausage. If you grind your own sausage, consider adding fennel to the mix.
Even if you’re using premade sausage, fennel still pairs well with it. One of my favorite childhood comfort foods was pigs-in-blankets—link sausages wrapped in biscuit dough flavored with fennel seeds.
If you are a vegetarian, you may consider flavoring pizza with fennel seeds to provide a satisfyingly sausage-like flavor.
The LA Times offers this recipe for meatloaf flavored with fennel seeds: Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf. The dish is made with a pound of bacon, pork, ground beef, heavy cream, eggs, parmesan cheese, and red wine. So this one is on the heavier side and will surely fill your belly!
The Washington Post gives a recipe for fennel-seed-flavored meatballs (scroll almost halfway down) that is a little lighter using beef broth instead of cream.
Try adding fennel seeds to your own favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe. The LA Times recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of fennel to one pound of ground meat. The Post recipe doubles the amount of fennel seed for the amount of meat. A little trial and error should clear up how much fennel you like in your ground meat dishes.
10 Fennel Recipes That Showcase Its Unique Flavor
Check out these recipes for cooking with fennel. From appetizers to main dishes and desserts, you’ll find a variety of ideas that use fennel as either an accent or the star of the recipe.
This distinctive vegetarian appetizer/side dish uses a double dose of fennel. (Since this comes from the BBC, their terminology is a little different—their aubergine chips are our eggplant fries.)
- Toasted ground fennel seeds are mixed with other spices and breadcrumbs in which the eggplants are dipped before frying.
- More toasted ground fennel seeds are stirred into a mix of yogurt, mayonnaise, and spices, making a final dip for the already-fried eggplant.
This Washington Post recipe features toasted fennel seeds crushed together with salt and garlic, then blended with lemon, shallots, and oil.
They suggest using this vinaigrette to season a blend of greens and beans. I imagine it could also go well with other foods.
This spicy vegetable jambalaya from the BBC starts with frying rice in oil seasoned with fennel seeds, paprika, thyme, and oregano. It’s a fairly quick recipe except for the time required to soak and precook the beans.
This simple recipe from the Chicago Tribune starts with frying fennel seeds and garlic in olive oil (NOT dry-toasting fennel seeds as in many of the recipes above).
Fish steaks are then fried in this oil and then covered with wine and tomatoes and simmered gently. I imagine this would work with other sorts of fish.
This recipe from the New York Times calls for encrusting salmon steaks in a mixture of ground fennel seeds, rosemary, and orange zest.
In this BBC recipe, fennel seeds are cooked along with sugar, salt, garlic, and many other herbs and spices to make a spicy brine in which chicken is soaked overnight.
In this BBC recipe, ground fennel seeds are combined with salt, pepper, and cumin to flavor lamb chops served over salad with flatbread.
This recipe blends sweet and savory flavors. A half a teaspoon of toasted and crushed fennel seeds flavor a sauce made with four pears.
In this BBC recipe, toasted fennel seeds are blended with sugar, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and orange zest to spice biscotti.
This quick and simple cake recipe from the Washington Post has very few ingredients. Combine flour, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, and milk—and, of course, a hearty dose of fennel seeds.
How to Substitute Fennel Seed in Recipes
Dill seed and caraway can both be used as substitutes for fennel seeds, especially in savory dishes. Anise seed may be a better choice substitution for fennel seed when making sweeter dishes and desserts.
Herb fennel’s distinctive flavor complements a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes. Many parts of the plant can be used, though most recipes call for seeds. Remember to check your recipe and know which type of fennel it calls for: bulbing fennel is a different, although related, plant.