From the Spice Cupboard: Fennel Seed

Thanks to your suggestions, we're continuing to dig into our spice cupboard and feature different ingredients. Today, we're talking about fennel seed. We'll admit to really disliking this dried herb as a child and requesting that it be kept out of our pasta and pizza sauce at all times. But now, we love its sweet and light licorice flavor.

Fennel seed is the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare - or what we commonly know as fennel - a perennial herb in the parsley family. Due to their similar taste, fennel seed is often confused with aniseed (not related to star anise), and once dried, is green or yellowish brown in color.

The fennel plant has a long history, and is mentioned in Greek mythology. Prometheus, the Titan, used a fennel stalk to steal fire from the gods and give to the humans. According to the legend, fennel was said to bring immortality. In the Middle Ages, fennel was hung over doors to protect from evil spirits, and it was used in China and India as a cure for snake bites.

These days, fennel won't give you eternal life, but it is still believed to be a digestive aid. Fennel seeds are used to make tea and capsules sold for this purpose, and in India and Pakistan, they're roasted and eaten after a meal with fresh breath as an added benefit.

Fennel seed is a key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder and Bengali Panch phoran spice mixture. It's also popular in the Middle East and in Italy. If you're a fan of Italian sausage, you're likely a fan of fennel seeds. There's actually an Italian phrase, "to give fennel," that means to flatter someone.

How do you like to use fennel seeds?

Recipes with Fennel Seed
Pappa al Pomodoro: Tuscan Bread Soup ... With Mussels!
Authentic Chai
Grilled Mackerel with Garlic, Lemon and Fennel
Adobo Crusted Lamb Loin Chop
Spicy Chickpea Stew from Herbivoracious
Cornmeal Fennel Cookies

Related: How To Use Fennel Pollen

(Image: Nuts.com)

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