Fennel

By EAT SMARTER
Updated on 23. Apr. 2020
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​Fennel's distinct licorice taste might not be for everyone. However fans of this distinct vegetable should use it as much as possible— not only does it add a unique flavor to dishes, but it is tremendously healthy as well.

fennel

Fennel…

  • ...can help with menstruation pain. Essential oils in fennel have been shown to help relieve abdominal and menstrual cramps.
  • ...is packed with vitamin C. 100 grams of fennel covers almost your daily requirement of immune-boosting vitamin C.
  • ...is low-calorie. Fennel is so low in calories and fat, even consuming large quantities will have a negligible effect on your weight.
  • ...is heart-healthy. 200 grams of fennel covers about a third of your daily requirement of vitamin B1, the so called “nerve vitamin” which helps strengthen the heart and nervous system.
  • ...is rich with vitamin A. Just 100 grams of fennel contains a whopping 783 micrograms of vitamin A, which supports healthy skin and vision.
  • ...helps protect blood vessels. Fennel has a ton of vitamin E, which plays an important role in protecting the blood vessels, can help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and may reduce the risk of disease such as Alzheimer's.

What You Should Know About Fennel

While fennel’s strong, licorice-y flavor isn’t everyone's cup of tea, it’s a delicious and nutritious treat for those who enjoy it.

In Italy fennel is an integral part of cooking culture, and can be seen growing throughout the country from October to May. Italians distinguish between two varieties of fennel; the large Bolognese fennel (Finocchio grosso) is preferably eaten raw, while the small and tender Florentine fennel (Finocchio nostrale) is more often steamed or cooked.

Origins

The ancestor of the fennel probably grew in the Mediterranean. However the modern iteration grows mainly in Europe, North Africa and in the United States. 

Seasonality

Fennel season falls from fall to early spring in the U.S., however modern cultivation has made it available year round in most markets. 

Flavor

Fennel’s abundant essential oils give the vegetable a very intense, aniseed-like taste with slightly sweet notes.

Find all our fennel recipes here.

How Healthy Is Fennel?

In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans knew fennel primarily as a medicinal plant. The Roman scholar Pliny  praised fennel’s effectiveness in combatting no less than 22 different ailments. 

Essential oils contained in fennel such as anethole, fenchone and menthol have a beneficial effect on the stomach and intestines, as well as for bronchial diseases and colds. However the essential oils can do even more! They also kill bacteria and can counter inflammatory processes.

Beyond that, fennel supplies considerable amounts of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and iron, as well as several B vitamins and provitamins A and E. Fennel also contains almost no fat, but plenty of fibre and relatively high amounts of vegetable protein. Thanks to its urine-forming effect, fennel also makes it easier for the kidneys to excrete metabolic waste. 

If you’re allergic to celery, fennel should be eaten with caution.

Fennel Nutritional Info (100 g)  
Calories 24
Protein 2.4 g
Carbohydrates 2.8 g
Fat 0.3 g
Fiber 4.2 g

Shopping and Cooking Tips

Shopping

When shopping for fennel ensure the bulb is a fresh white color and as immaculate as possible, with no bruising or discoloration, and the fennel fronds are a vibrant green color.


Storage

Fennel can store for a particularly long time. Wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the fridge, it can keep fresh for up to two weeks. Once its cut, however, the fennel quickly loses its essential oils and vitamin C, so be sure to consume quickly after preparation.  

Preparation

First, wash stalks thoroughly, watching out for any dirt or sand, then then cut off the root base. What you do next depends on the recipe— fennel can be grated, cut into sticks or thin slices, cubed or even left whole. And make sure not to throw away the fennel fronds after preparing; finely chopped, they can be used to top vegetable dishes as well as fish, soups, sauces, mayonnaises and salads.

Fennel remains particularly crisp if you place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes after preparation. This also makes the dressing stick better if you’re preparing it for a salad. If you are remember to always dress the salad just before serving; if you let the fennel sit in dressing to long, it can wilt the leaves.  

What To Make With Fennel

Fennel’s ubiquity in Italy has yielded tons of delicous Italian recipes using the vegetable. Italians not only eat it raw in vegetables or cooked as a side dish, but even as a dessert. Primarily, however, fennel is used in savory vegetable dishes - steamed, stuffed, in pasta sauces, braised, or au gratin. In Italy, fennel is also a popular ingredient in soups and stews such as Umbrian fish soup, and is used to refine Tuscan mushroom soup or a spicy risotto.

Steamed or gratinated fennel tastes great on its own as a low-calorie small dish or as a refined side dish with light fish.

A good tip for beginners: prepare fennel "la mamma" by finely mincing it and throwing it into a classic tomato sauce, served with pasta. The vegetable’s intense flavor will add depth to the sauce but not overpower it. 

Fennel can also be used as a spice. Chop it finely and throw a few tablespoons onto fish and meat dishes, baked goods and pickled vegetables. 

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