It might look inconspicuous, but anybody who’s tried fennel knows that this cute plant actually packs a considerable punch. The fennel plant sort of resembles onions and other bulbs, but the taste is much closer to anise or licorice.
Fennel tastes “anise-like” and is often described as a less intense licorice taste. After you cook a fennel bulb, it becomes even more mild. Even licorice haters are known to like fennel.
This unique taste can make fennel a bit challenging to cook with for some, but I personally find the taste refreshing and try to use fennel as often as I can in my own cooking when it’s in season.
Part of the reason the fennel plant has such an interesting flavor and texture is that it’s technically a spice, a plant, AND a vegetable, all in one package.
Different parts of the plant are used for different purposes. , Fennel is originally native to the Mediterranean but is now relatively common to find in supermarkets all around the world.
Below I’ll go more in-depth into the flavor of a fennel-bulb as well as finding and using fennel in your own cooking.
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What Types of Fennel are There?
There are several varieties of fennel. The most common types to use in cooking are Florence fennel, which has a reasonably large bulb and is sold fresh as a vegetable.
Herb fennel can be used for its parts (like seeds, pollen, and fronds). You can also find wild fennel growing in certain parts of the USA, like California.
Fennel Taste and Texture
Fennel has quite a complex flavor, and the different parts of the plant taste a bit different from one another. Most people would say that fennel tastes like anise or licorice, but fennel has a much milder taste than licorice does.
In fact, a lot of people that don’t like licorice enjoy fennel. The fennel plant itself has a texture similar to celery, but it is harder and fleshier. It’s really crunchy and a bit stringy. Once you’ve cooked the bulb, it’s soft and relatively easy to chew.
How Can I Find Fennel?
It’s usually pretty easy to find fennel at your local supermarket or greengrocer. It’s usually found in the fresh produce section next to the celery.
When picking fennel, you should look for a plant that has bulbs without any cracks, and which are white and firm. The bulb should be proportionately larger than the stems or fronds are.
How Should I Store Fennel?
Fennel keeps the longest when stored in the fridge. It would help if you stored your fennel in a plastic bag, and ideally at the bottom of your refrigerator.
The plant should keep for up to two weeks this way. Once you cut fennel, make sure to wrap it up well in a plastic bag as this stops the rest of the plant from browning. The fronds on your fennel plant might wilt while you store it, but this is ok as long as the bulb looks fine and isn’t cracked.
You can actually freeze fennel, too. If you want to freeze your fennel, you should cut it up and freeze it flat on parchment paper. Once frozen, you can transfer your fennel into little bags to use when required. I like to do this and then use the fennel portions in soups and stews, for example.
What are Some Ways to Prepare and Use Fennel?
Fennel is such a versatile plant, which is why I love cooking with it. Some people even like to eat fennel raw in salads! While this might not be to everyone’s taste, it’s said to be healthy for your digestive tract to eat raw fennel.
Fortunately, there are other options for using the plant. If you want to use fresh bulbs for cooking, you should cut off the fronds and stems at an angle. You can use these parts of the plant as well, so don’t throw them away if you might have another use for them.
Using a knife, scrape any browning off the bulb. Cut the bulb in half, and then slice it into pieces. The size you want your pieces to depends on the recipe and your preference.
You can cut it the same way that you would celery, or you can dice it up more finely. If you want to use your fennel in a stew, you can cut it into larger chunks.
You’ve probably noticed that I keep referencing celery. If you haven’t used fennel before and aren’t sure where to begin, I think you can use fennel just about anywhere you might use celery for cooking. Fennel just offers a more intense flavor.
This is an excellent way to start experimenting with fennel in cooking. It works exceptionally well in hearty dishes like soups and stews. You can add it to salads or try experimenting with cooking the bulbs in larger pieces.
How Can I Cook with Fennel?
If you’re looking for some inspiration for cooking with fennel, I’ve got you covered. As mentioned above, I love using fennel in all kinds of dishes. The taste and texture of the plant make it a much more exciting addition to salads and stews than celery, in my opinion.
Here are some ways to cook with fennel:
- Slaw-style salad
Something I like making with fennel is a slaw-style salad. Fennel is approximately 90% water, and it has a great crunch, so it’s a refreshing addition to a salad.
Roasting fennel is a great way to bring out the natural, subtle sweetness of the bulb. If you’re making roast vegetables, you could consider using the fennel bulb as part of your mixture.
Roasting vegetables with olive oil, herbs, and spices, is one of my favorite vegan comfort foods. It’s a super cozy and satisfying meal or side dish, especially for the colder months. You can try roasting fennel with diced potato, pumpkin, and carrot.
Slather the whole mixture in olive oil and sprinkle salt and herbs on top- rosemary works exceptionally well here. Then, serve the mixture as a side dish to your main, or enjoy it on its own!
Once you’ve cut the stalks, save them and try adding them to your salads. You can also try juicing them for some extra green goodness.
I also encourage you to try cooking with the fronds. You can get pretty experimental with these parts of the plant.
I personally think the fronds are a great addition to vegan pestos, and I love using them chopped up as a garnish. You can use the fronds to decorate salads or heartier dishes like soups and pasta, too.
Fennel is a versatile vegetable that many people have never ventured to try. The bulb tastes like a mixture of black licorice and anise which makes fennel great for adding a strong flavor.
It’s not wide-spread throughout many grocery stores so it shouldn’t be hard to find, even if you’ve never paid attention to it before. Let me know what you thought about fennel’s flavor? How did you end up cooking with it?