Fennel comes across like an out-of-shape cousin to celery with its bulbous base and wispy, feather top. But what does fennel taste like and is it worth using in your next recipe? Keep reading to learn about this vegetable’s flavor and get loads more useful cooking advice.

How does fennel taste?

Raw fennel bulb has a complex, anise-like flavor that ranges in intensity from mild through to pungent. Once cooked, its loses intensity. People that don’t enjoy licorice often find fennel quite tasty. Fennel’s texture is similar to celery, although the stalks are a little tougher and more fibrous. It transforms from crunchy to silky and soft once sauteed.

» Fennel seeds taste like the fronds – they are fresh and aromatic with aniseed notes and a subtle grassy undertone.

» Fennel fronds have a strong anise flavor and are excellent added to dishes like salads, pesto, and salmon. The delicate fronds look like dill and make a perfect garnish. They impart a stronger flavor than the bulb and are soft-textured.

» Fennel tea has a relaxing scent with a fresh aniseed flavor and a mildly bitter aftertaste. It makes a unique tasting brew that is thought to improve digestion and memory.

An infographic describing the taste of fennel.

What goes well with fennel?

  • Onions
  • Tomato
  • Garlic
  • Seafood
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Sausage
  • Apple
  • Basil
  • Allspice
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

How to cut fennel

  1. Place raw fennel on a chopping board and find a sharp chef’s knife such as a gyuto or santoku. Unless the fennel is young and tender, it is best to remove the outer white layer that is usually tough.
  2. Chop off the top of the fennel but don’t toss it out. The stalks are perfect for casseroles, soups, and stocks and the fronds make an excellent garnish. Place them in an airtight container or zip-lock bag until you’re ready to plate up. They’ll look much fresher if you take this step.
  3. Slice the fennel in half vertically then cut triangles out of the base of the fennel to remove the core. Discard the cores as they are unpleasant to eat.
  4. Slice the fennel into an appropriate size for your dish. If you’re eating the vegetable raw then finely slice. A mandoline is useful for making perfectly even slices. If you are slow-cooking a vegetable stock or casserole, then larger chunks will work best.

Use the fennel in a recipe or wrap it in plastic and store it in the vegetable crisper until you’re ready to use it.

Do you want a quick and easy use for fennel? Add it to a bowl with balsamic glaze and chives for a refreshing salad. For some extra sweetness add cubes of apple. Jazz or Royal Gala are both delicious options.

Watch a 90-second video about the fennel’s taste

How to saute fennel

A quick way to cook fennel is the sauté method. You’ll need a shallow frying pan. If you have a large quantity of fennel you’re best to cook it in two batches rather than piling the pieces up.

Sauteed Fennel

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch of sliced fennel
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place the pan on a medium heat and add oil once it warms up.
  2. Toss in the fennel and cook until it starts to turn translucent, then remove from the heat.
  3. Season and serve while hot.

What types of fennel are there?

Although there are various types of fennel, the most common type for cooking is the Florence fennel. This vegetable is sold in supermarkets and sometimes the fronds are chopped off before sale. A second common variety is sweet fennel which has been developed mostly to produce fennel seeds.

Where can I buy fennel?

Fennel is a common vegetable that can be found in the fresh produce section of the grocery store or at the greengrocer. You’ll usually find it positioned next to the celery.

How do I select the best fennel?

When you’re at the store, look for bulbs that are clean and white without bruises, blemishes, or spots. Most fennel has its stalks and fronds cut off before placing on the shelf. If they are still intact, look for fresh, bright green fronds growing on long firm stalks. They signal freshness and make for a lovely-looking garnish.

Recommended Reading:
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What are the recommended substitutes for dill?

Parts of fennel
Every part of the fennel is edible.

Culinary uses for fennel

Fennel adds freshness to heavy meat dishes and its crisp texture and unique flavor make it a popular option for adding to coleslaw. Although native to the Mediterranean, it is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Indian cuisine.

The fronds are great for decorating pasta, fish, soup, or salad. They can also be added to dips, pestos, vinaigrettes, and salsas.

You can also use fennel for:

Roasted fennel: Use the whole vegetable or slice the bulb in half then drizzle with olive oil and season before roasting. A tasty option as a side to chicken salad.

Coleslaw: Cut fennel bulb and combine with apple, carrots, apple cider vinegar, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard.

Juices: Juice fresh fennel and combine with apple, lemon, and celery juice for a nutritious drink.

Soups: Sauté fennel, brown onion, potato, and garlic until caramelized then add stock and seasoning. Boil until the vegetables are cooked through and then blend everything until smooth.  

Fennel Blossom isolated on white background
A light sprinkling of fennel blossom offers a distinct, fresh flavor to the dish.

Frequently asked questions

Does fennel taste similar to black licorice?

Fennel has an anise-like flavor, but it is much less intense than black licorice. Once cooked, the taste becomes milder. The fronds tend to impart a stronger taste than the bulb.

What is fennel pollen?

Fennel pollen is harvested from the fennel blossom and is a spice that tastes of citrus and anise. Use this versatile seasoning in a wide range of dishes.

Can I eat fennel blossom?

Fennel blossom is edible and, like the rest of the plant, has a taste of anise.

How do I store fennel?

To store a fennel bulb, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the vegetable crisper for up to five days.

To freeze fennel bulbs, chop them into pieces and transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze for an hour, then add them to single portion freezer bags and label with the current date before returning to the freezer. Fennel can be frozen for up to ten months.

When is fennel in season?

Fennel is a hardy vegetable that can grow all year round. Its peak season is October through April.

How do I fix a dish with too much fennel taste?

If you have time, try adding extra ingredients that you’ve already used in your recipe to reduce the anise. Use vegetables without an overpowering flavor so that you don’t mess with the dish too much.

Another option is to add extra seasonings such as salt, chili, or garlic to help balance the flavors. Remember that cooking fennel will reduce its flavor so the dish may be fine by the end of cooking.

Summing up

Fennel is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen that’s easy to prepare and store. It has a distinctive anise undertone that adds depth of flavor to dishes. It also helps to cut through heavy dishes by adding bright flavor.

The fronds are delicate, perfect for dressing up salmon or a creamy sauce. Whatever part of the vegetable you choose to use, expect an aniseed flavor that is fresh and vibrant when raw. Like kohlrabi and artichoke, fennel may not be so popular with kids.