Fennel seeds are the dried seeds of the fennel herb, scientifically known as foeniculum vulgare. The fennel plant is a member of the carrot family of plants. Fennel seeds are a similar oval shape to cumin seeds but have a greenish hue. Older seeds tend to adopt a more greyish. Fennel seeds are used to impart an aromatic aniseed, liquorice type of flavour to foods. The spice has slightly sweet notes and can add a warming character to dishes.
Fennel seeds are indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but the spice is now popular all over the world and used in many different cuisines. It is one of the main ingredients used to make absinthe, along with anise. Although popular all across the globe, fennel seeds are most often used in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Italian cuisines. They are an integral part of spice mixes like the Indian panch phoran and the Chinese five spice blend. Fennel seeds are also often consumed as a tea.
The health benefits of fennel seeds
Fennel seeds are touted for their many health benefits and are an integral herb in the Indian traditional medicine, Ayurveda. In India and Pakistan, toasted fennel seeds are often served after a dish to aid digestion as well as impart fresh breath after a meal. Fennel seeds have numerous health benefits, including:
- Anti-inflammatory: The essential oils of fennel seeds are found to contain more than 87 volatile compounds, including polyphenol antioxidants like rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and apigenin. These polyphenol antioxidents are powerful anti-inflammatories that can help reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease, obesity, cancer, neurological diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
- Good for the heart: Fennel seeds are packed with fibre, a nutrient that has been proven to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol. Diets high in fibre have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Cancer prevention: Many of fennel’s plant compounds have been shown to contain cancer-fighting properties. This includes anethole, which has been shown to suppress cell growth and induce cell death in human breast cancer cells.
- Galactagogue: Anethole also includes substances that help increase milk production in lactating women, as well as the levels of hormone prolactin in the blood, which signals the body to produce breast milk.
- Antibacterial: Some studies show that fennel extract can help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and yeasts, like staphylococcus aureus and candida albicans.
How to use fennel seeds in cooking
Fennel seeds have a highly aromatic flavour reminiscent of aniseed or liquorice. This makes them a wonderful addition to both sweet and savoury foods. Here are some ideas for using fennel seeds in cooking:
- Add fennel to soups and stocks,
- Sprinkle fennel seeds in your salads,
- Use fennel seeds in biscuits or breads,
- Add fennel seeds to homemade sausages,
- Use fennel seeds in curries and stews,
- Crush the seeds into a powder and add to spice mixes or blends,
- Add fennel seeds to your marinades,
- Use fennel seeds to give extra flavour when making pickles or relishes,
- Steep or boil fennel seeds in hot water and make a tea,
- Add fennel seeds to risotto,
- Mix fennel seeds into stuffing used for chickens and turkey.
Apart from its uses as a spice, fennel seed is believed to have digestive benefits. Especially in India and Pakistan, they are often roasted and consumed after a meal to not only aid in digestion but also for fresh breath.
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