What Are Fennel Seeds and How Do You Cook with Them?

This dried, licorice-like seasoning might be a bit under the radar, but it's distinctively flavorful and has health benefits to boot.

Fennel seeds
Photo: DR NEIL OVERY / Getty Images

Spices and herbs like fennel seeds offer flavor, aroma and potential health benefits. Whether you use fennel seeds for pickling vegetables, seasoning sausage or making a crust for fish or beef, you'll soon realize that these aromatic seeds can elevate the most basic recipes. Fennel seeds also offer vitamins, minerals and fiber, so you can feel good about working them into your weekly meal plan. Read on to find out what fennel seeds are, their benefits and how you can use them in your dishes.

What Are Fennel Seeds?

Fennel seeds are harvested from the fennel plant's flowers and then dried. They tend to be pale green to tan in color with an oval shape. Like the fennel bulb, they have a sweet, licorice-like flavor that can lend an earthy, sweet taste to dishes, and they pair especially well with seafood and pork.

Are Anise and Fennel the Same Thing?

Fennel is sometimes confused with anise and although both are part of the parsley family, anise is a separate species entirely. Anise is grown mainly for its seeds, while fennel has the bulb, fronds and seeds to offer. Anise also has a stronger, sharper licorice flavor compared to fennel. And just to make things a bit more complicated, the strong, distinctive-tasting star anise—a main ingredient in many Chinese dishes—is from a completely different plant family than both fennel and anise.

What's a Good Substitute for Fennel Seeds?

If you need a swap for fennel seed, you can use anise seed since their tastes are similar. But remember, you will want to use less anise, as it tends to be more pungent. Depending on your preferences, other seeds will work as well, such as dill, caraway, cumin or coriander.

Spicy Coriander-Cumin Chicken Thighs
Jacob Fox

Pictured Recipe: Spicy Coriander-Cumin Chicken Thighs

Fennel Seeds Nutrition

Here are the nutrition facts for one teaspoon (2 grams) of fennel seeds:

  • Calories: 7 kcal
  • Protein: 0.3 g
  • Fat: 0.3 g
  • Carbohydrate: 1 g
  • Fiber: 0.8 g
  • Potassium: 34 mg
  • Calcium: 24 mg
  • Iron: 0.37 mg
  • Magnesium: 7.7 mg
  • Manganese: 0.13 mg

Health Benefits of Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are tiny but mighty—they contain minerals like calcium that play a role in building bones and maintaining nerve and muscle function. They also have iron, an essential nutrient for growth and development, and magnesium which also supports muscle and nerve functions. Fennel seeds also contain manganese, a mineral that is important for bone health and supporting the immune system.

Research published in Medicinal Plants of South Asia in 2020 suggests that the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties present in fennel seeds may play a role in lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and decreasing cancer risk.

Where to Buy Fennel Seeds

Whole fennel seeds are sold in the dried spices section of most supermarkets. Ground fennel is also an option, but for maximum freshness and flavor it's best to buy whole seeds and grind them yourself at home. From there, enjoy them on their own or combine them with other spices to make your own unique spice blend. You can also check out our ideas for seasoning blends and herb mixes for inspiration.

How to Cook with Fennel Seeds

With a flavor profile that's distinctive and herbaceous, fennel seed is a versatile spice that can be used as a seasoning for fish fillets, like our Poached Salmon with Fennel & Lemon, and for pizzas, like our Garlic, Sausage & Kale Naan Pizzas. Add them to salad dressings, main dishes like pork tenderloin, desserts and more!

Bottom Line

Now that you know what fennel seeds are, it is time to grind them up and use them in a variety of savory dishes and desserts. Enjoy!

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles