Though it can be confused with anise or celery, fennel is one vegetable that stands on its own! Referenced in Greek mythology as a food associated with the gods, fennel has been revered through the ages. Usually thought of as an Italian vegetable, fennel is popular in many places, not just Italy. With all parts of the plant being edible, you can get a lot of use out of fennel. Though it is often thought of as having a “licorice” taste, it is actually quite mild once cooked. With abounding health benefits, fennel is a unique food that’s worth trying!
Fennel is a white or light green bulb with several green stalks protruding from it. The stalks have vibrant, frilly green leaves on them.
Fennel is slightly sweet, and tastes like licorice or anise. In its raw form, it is crunchy, with a texture much like that of celery. Once cooked, fennel is soft and not stringy.
Fennel is widely and readily available fresh throughout the year. Peak season for fennel is autumn through spring (approximately May to October).
You should select fennel that is firm, crisp, relatively heavy, and large in size. It should have stalks that are a vibrant green. Avoid fennel that has mushy or brown spots.
The size of fennel’s bulblike base affects the taste. The smaller the base, the milder the taste and therefore the better it is for eating raw in crudité and salads. The larger the base, the stronger the taste will be, which is preferred for roasting and braising.
There are many factors to consider when deciding between purchasing organic fennel and commercially grown fennel.
Organic foods are those that are produced without the use of artificial chemicals or fertilizers, genetic modification, radiation, or sewage sludge. Buying organic foods, in particular, minimizes exposure to harmful pesticides. Pesticides are toxic in nature and have been linked to a myriad of health problems. Among these problems are cancer, hormone disruption, brain toxicity, and eye, skin, and lung irritation. Pesticides are also thought to harm the environment including the soil, water, and wildlife.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue, so the heart of the vegetable is less affected than the exterior. Fennel doesn’t appear on the EWG’s produce list. But if pesticide exposure is a concern for you, choose organic fennel.
Raw fennel can be kept in an airtight container, preferably a plastic bag, in the refrigerator for seven to ten days. It should not be washed until ready to use. Fennel can keep in the freezer for ten to twelve months, though it is best to blanch it first. To do so, you should wash fennel thoroughly, put it in boiling water for 2 minutes, chill it in ice water, remove excess moisture, and place in an airtight container or freezer bag in the freezer.
Every part of fennel—the bulb, stalks, leaves, and seeds—can be safely eaten. Chop the raw stems into small pieces to add some crunch and an extra kick of flavor to any salad or keep the stems long and serve alongside hummus or a yogurt dip. Chopped stalks can be steamed or sautéed to stand alone or as an addition to a stir-fry or steamed or sautéed vegetable medley. In some cultures, the seeds are eaten raw after a meal to aid in digestion and are used to relieve general gas and bloating.
The bulb can be steamed, sautéed, or braised for a great accompaniment to animal protein or grains. Before cooking, the leaves and stalks should be removed from the bulb. The bulb should be cut in half, and the core removed.
Perhaps the healthiest and best ways to enjoy the pure flavor of fennel are to either eat fennel raw or steam the bulb. To steam the fennel bulb, remove the leaves and stalks, cut out the core, and place in a basket over boiling water for 20 to 35 minutes, or until tender.
Far more than protecting the body from the common cold, this immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.
A non-digestible carbohydrate, fiber provides a feeling of fullness, aids digestive support, helps provide the movement and excretion of bodily wastes, and aids blood-sugar stability.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
Fennel is thought to have wide-ranging health benefits, including antioxidant properties, which aid in the prevention of many types of cancer. It also has a high amount of vitamin C, which makes it good for boosting your immune system. The fiber in fennel makes it a vegetable that may aid in reducing cholesterol levels. Fennel is a diuretic, which helps to cleanse the body of toxins. It has been used to treat colic in babies, on a short-term basis. It is a safe and effective herbal remedy for the treatment of dysmenorrhea. It is thought to combat flatulence by expelling intestinal gas. Fennel has been considered an aid for eyesight since ancient times. Modern studies show that it may aid in the prevention of glaucoma. Fennel has previously been used in the treatment of coughs, and in improving milk supply for mothers (though neither of these have been proven).
- In Greek myth, fennel was linked with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine.
- Fennel seeds are what give Italian sausage its distinct flavoring.
- Greek myths say fennel was used to carry knowledge from gods to men.