Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant species in the carrot family. It is a hardy, perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks.
It is a highly aromatic and flavourful herb used in cooking and, along with the similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.
The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant are used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. The small flowers of wild fennel (known as fennel “pollen”) are the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive. Dried fennel fruit is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice, brown or green in colour when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the fruit ages. For cooking, green fruits are optimal. The leaves are delicately flavoured and similar in shape to those of dill. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw. Tender young leaves are used for garnishes, as a salad, to add flavour to salads, to flavour sauces to be served with desserts and also in soups and fish sauce. Both the inflated leaf bases and the tender young shoots can be eaten like celery.
Fennel fruits are sometimes confused with those of anise, which are similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fennel is also used as a flavouring in some natural toothpastes. The fruits are used in cookery and sweet desserts.
Fennel leaves are used as leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as part of a meal. Many egg, fish, and other dishes employ fresh or dried fennel leaves.
On account of its aromatic properties, fennel fruit forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound liquorice powder.