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Food Focus: Fennel

Most often associated with Italian cookery, fennel’s sweet-anise, licorice-like flavor adds a unique dimension to soups, salads, sautés, braises and desserts. The seeds, the leaves, the celery-like stalks and the bulb of this herb plant can all be used in cooking.

Fast facts. According to the Herb Information Site, ancient Roman texts extol the value of this herb for its aromatic seeds and succulent, edible stalks. As early as 745–815 AD, the ruler Charlemagne promoted fennel’s use and cultivated the herb on his imperial farms. Romans introduced it to Britain during the Roman occupation. The herb was introduced to the Americas in the 1700s.

Nutritional profile. Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a great way to add dietary fiber, potassium, iron, niacin, manganese, copper, phosphorus and folate to the diet.

Suggested culinary uses. Fennel seeds are a foundational flavoring agent for baked goods such as cookies, breads and cakes. Tear or chop the fronds (which are similar in texture to dill and much more delicately flavored than the fennel stalk or bulb) and add them to salads or use them to garnish dishes in which fennel is used. Sauté and roast the stems and leaves as a delicate vegetable side dish. Fennel seeds are often used in spicy meat mixtures and sausages. The herb is a perfect foil to pork, salmon and wild game.

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