Despite its pale green colour, fennel does deliver on the nutriton front. Aside from being low in calories and fat-free, it's a source of folate (a B vitamin that makes and repairs DNA in cells), potassium and it even supplies some vitamin C.
Fennel is also a rich source of antioxidants. Most notably, it contains a phytochemical called anethole, which has been shown in animal studies to reduce inflammation and help guard against cancer.
Folk medicine has long used fennel, specifically the seeds, as a digestive aid, a natural diuretic and a breath freshener.
According to Canada's Food Guide, one serving of fennel is 1/2 cup (125 ml) Here's how fennel stacks up in terms of nutrition:
Per 1/2 cup raw fennel (bulb):
|Total fat (g)||0|
|Vitamin C (mg)||6|
Fennel is sometimes confused with aniseed, which comes from the same plant family and has a similar taste. However, fennel and aniseed are different plants.
Fennel belongs to the same family as parsley, carrots, dill and coriander, but resembles a cross between celery and leeks.
All parts of the fennel plant are edible - the bulb, the leaves and the seeds.
When choosing fresh fennel, look for clean, firm and solid bulbs. Avoid bulbs that have signs of splitting or bruising, which is evident by discolouration.
Bulbs should be a pale green colour and the stalks and leaves should be a brighter green. The leaves should be fresh-looking and not wilted.
Be sure to choose fennel that doesn't have flowers on the leaves. The presence of flowers, or buds, means the vegetable is past maturity and the taste may be compromised.
Fresh fennel should be fragrant with a mild licorice smell.
When choosing fennel seeds, buy them in a sealed jar. If you are buying fennel seeds in bulk, buy from a store with a high turnover so you can be sure you're getting fresh and fragrant seeds.
To store fresh fennel, wrap it in plastic and store in the crisper of your fridge. Do not wash fennel before storing; the added moisture could cause the bulb and leaves to go soggy. Use fresh fennel within 3 or 4 days, otherwise it tends to lose its flavour.
Fennel can also be blanched and frozen, although the fennel will not have as much flavour as when it is fresh.
Dried fennel seeds should be kept in a sealed container in a cool, dry location. Alternatively, you can keep the seeds in the fridge to keep them fresher for longer.
Before using fresh fennel, wash the bulb, stalk and leaves thoroughly.
After washing, separate the bulb and the stalk by cutting the top of the bulb, where it meets the stalk. If you are using the bulb intact in a recipe, follow the recipe as directed. If you are not using the intact bulb, cut it in half, cut off the base and remove the outside layers as necessary. The best way to slice the bulb is to do so vertically, after removing the hard core from the center of the bulb.
The stalks and leaves can be prepared as necessary. Be sure to rinse the stalks and leaves well before cooking to remove any dirt. If there are flowers on the leaves, remove these before preparing.
Because all parts of the fennel plant can be enjoyed, fennel can be used in many ways. Here are some of my favourite ways to enjoy fennel:
Healthy Ways to Enjoy
- Add thinly sliced raw fennel bulbs to a side salad.
- Cut fennel vertically, leaving bulb, stalk and leaves intact, brush with olive oil and grill until lightly brown - serve with fish, chicken or meat.
- Serve sliced fennel bulbs as a burger topping.
- Add chopped fennel stalks to soups or stews.
- Sauté garlic, onions and fennel for a tasty topping for sandwiches.
- Fennel works especially well with salmon - season grilled salmon with any part of fennel - sautéed bulb, sliced stalk, minced leaves or dried seeds.
- Cut a fennel bulb into large chunks, toss with olive oil and roast at 400F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fennel begins to caramelize.
- Sauté fennel seeds with onion, garlic and sweet Italian sausage when making your next tomato-based pasta sauce.
- Add fennel seeds to sautéed cabbage and apples for a healthy side dish.
- Chew on a handful of fennel seeds to freshen your breath and soothe your stomach.
Did you know?
- While fennel has traditionally been grown in areas around the Mediterranean, currently the United States, France, India and Russia are among the top cultivators.
- Fennel plays a role in Greek mythology. Legend has it that knowledge was delivered to man in a fennel stalk filled with coal by the gods. It was also supposed to provide immortality to those who ate it.
- The scientific name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare.
- Fennel is used as a flavour enhancer in some natural toothpastes.