Wonderful Whole Foods: What is Fennel?

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What is Fennel

Are you already a close friend of this aromatic vegetable? Or are you wondering… What is Fennel, really? Even if you know fennel, it’s worth writing about. Its flavour is pretty unique.

Before Italy, I never really thought about Fennel… ever.  Only after moving to Rome, I was introduced to Fennel, Finocchio (feeh/NOHK/kyoh) in Italian. They love it here, it’s everywhere.

What is Fennel - Fennel Seeds

What is Fennel?

Fennel is a flowering plant belonging to the carrot family.
The flowers of the plant are a pretty yellow colour and have a lace-like look about them. They’re like fronds, giving flowering fennel a lovely light loose bushy look to it.

The whole fennel plant can be used for something, be it food, tea or natural remedies like fennel seed paste for insect bites.

In the western world, we generally use the fennel root vegetable and seeds for cooking, or we drink fennel tea.

Fennel is also considered to be a Herb. Wikipedia explains what makes a herb a herb clearly:

In general use, herbs are any plants used for food, flavoring, medicine, or fragrances for their savory or aromatic properties. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbs from spices. Herbs refers to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), while spices are produced from other parts of the plant (usually dried), including seeds, berries, bark, roots and fruits.

Now you’ll know for sure, Fennel is definitely a Herb. It has a wonderful aromatic flavour, similar to Aniseed (Anise). A very interesting liquorice-like flavour. Even being someone who isn’t particularly fond of liquorice, I enjoy having Fennel in my life.

Italy Fennel Season

Where does Fennel come from?

Fennel originated from the Mediterranean shores but is now found all over the world.

So you can see why fennel is an integral part of Italian cuisine, being that it originated from the lands of the boot. You’ll find all sorts of interesting Italian recipes that use fennel. This refers to the bulb of the fennel, the stalks, leaves and the fennel seeds. You’ll find tasty foods like Sicilian sausage made with fennel seeds inside, or baked with some olive oil.

Although it is native to the Mediterranean, it is produced all over the world now. India is actually the leader in the production of fennel, anise, star anise, and coriander.

Something else interesting that I discovered when researching Fennel: In old English literature, recorded in a 10th-century manuscript, there is a poem written as part of a supposed anglo-pagan cure for poisoning and infection by mixing nine herbs. Fennel is one of them.

The ritual went like this:

“Take the nine herbs, crush them to dust, and mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg – both before and after the prepared salve is applied.
Further, the charm directs the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.” 

The Poem, or charm went like this:

A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house.

It’s an intriguing anglo-pagan ritual. Read more on Wikipedia here: Nine Herbs Poem.

When is Fennel Season?

Fennel is an Autumn-Winter vegetable.

Fennel likes moderate temperatures, so not freezing and not too hot. It takes about three months for a Fennel to produce a bulb, so when you plant your seeds make sure you have at least 3-4 months for them to grow before it gets too hot or too cold.

Look out for Fennel in the shops as winter approaches, that’s December in Italy.

Research what’s in season, and make meals using these ingredients. You’ll see how naturally they go together. For example, mushrooms and truffles are both in season in Autumn and go beautifully together. Some matchings may be surprisingly good, like a Fennel and Grapefruit Salad. Amazing.

What makes the Fennel so awesome?

Why does Italy love fennel so much? Is it the anise-liquorice taste? Perhaps it’s the fresh crunchy texture? Perhaps it’s because it is so beneficial for healthy digestion? If you love this guy, what’s your reason?

Fennel has a unique taste, making it an interesting food to add to meals. You have options too. You could use the bulb part and eat it raw or cooked. You could use the leaves, stalks and seeds to flavour meals. You could drink fennel tea. Lots of options for a unique flavour.

It’s taste coupled with its texture, make it great for many dishes. A crunchy ingredient in a fresh salad, or an aromatic fennel seed flavour for a warm dish like a soup or stew. You can even simply snack on chopped fennel instead of carrots or celery. Good snack.

That brings us to its nutrients. Fennel contains a good amount of Vitamin C, as well as healthy dose of iron, calcium, manganese, potassium and fibre.

#Fennel is an awesome root vegetable - Aromatic Flavour, Versatility, Nutrients and All-round Crunchy Goodness. So, I say, why not? Click To Tweet

A Closer Look at Fennel?

If you want to read more about this awesome vegetable, it’s benefits, uses and recipes are below. Enjoy!


Read on to discover more about:
Fennel Nutritional Content
Fennel Health Benefits
Fennel Uses
Practical Information
Clean Fennel Recipes


Fennel Nutritional Content:

The nutritional content of 100g of fresh whole fennel:

Energy1,443 kJ (345 kcal)
Carbohydrates52 g
Dietary fiber40 g
Fat14.9 g
Saturated0.5 g
Monounsaturated9.9 g
Polyunsaturated1.7 g
Protein15.8 g
VitaminsThiamine (B1) (36%), Riboflavin (B2) (29%), Niacin (B3) (41%), Vitamin B6 (36%), Vitamin C (25%)
MineralsCalcium (120%), Iron (142%), Magnesium (108%), Manganese (310%), Phosphorus (70%), Potassium (36%), Sodium (6%), Zinc (42%)

As you’ll see, Fennel has lots of fibre, no sugar, and other necessary vitamins and minerals. Sounds like a great vegetable to have on the menu.

Fennel Health Benefits:

Besides its aromatic flavour, Fennel is very nutritious for our bodies.

Fennel contains a lot of dietary fibre, making it great for promoting healthy digestion. Why?

Dietary fibre is basically the roughage in plant foods that our bodies can’t digest. It basically travels right through and out your body. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, both with their own special functions. Plants foods usually contain a mix of both, which is great. The Mayo Clinic goes into great detail, if this interests you: What is Dietary Fibre.

Pulling out one of the most important ways Fennel’s fibre helps us: It creates bulk needed for the intestines to push against to create more movement. This assists in normalizing bowel movements and can help conditions like constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, cramps, and gas.

Get your dose of fibre by eating fennel raw or cooked, or you could add fennel seeds to your recipes.

Another way to enjoy fennel is fennel tea. You can buy it in the shops or make your own with fennel flowers or seeds. I have sometimes just broken off some fennel off a bush and added to my mug of hot water – easy as that. You can get a little more complex and making fennel seed tea – Watch this video and at 50 seconds is an easy fennel seed tea recipe. This tea is a great way to soothe your digestive system.

Some say that to be healthy, you need to start with a healthy digestive system. Some even say that the digestive system is the most important system of the whole body. After dealing with my own debilitating digestive disorders, I have come to believe this is true. When my painful stomach cramps actually prevented me from going to work, I realised how bad it could get. After visiting a couple general doctors, and no results, I finally found my way to an incredible Indian doctor, Davesh Patel. He did give me some veggie vitamins and more natural painkillers, but, the main thing he changed was my diet. No sugar, dairy or caffeine for two weeks. This last change is what fixed my digestion. That is, along with a trip to India soon after.

I went to India on a 1-month backpacking trip with my sister, just after dealing with this digestive cramping issue. I was paranoid that I was going to get “Delhi Belly” or something else. So I went prepared, with all kinds of eating rules and stocked up with the better kind of medicine from my miracle Indian doctor.

It was amazing, as I have never felt as healthy as I did in India. Almost all I ate was cooked vegetarian Indian food, mainly curries. For some days it was curry for breakfast, lunch and summer. Drinking filtered water and litres of Chai. It’s interesting that eating in India felt great for my digestive system, never bloated, no cramps, just all round above normal and healthy. Perhaps it was all the spices.

Fennel is a big part of Indian cooking too. They use it in a lot of their dishes, mainly using the fennel seeds.

What is Fennel - Fennel Seeds

 

In India, there is even a wonderful thing called “Mukhwas”. Wikipedia describes it well:

Mukhwas is a colourful Indian after-meal snack or digestive aid widely used as a mouth freshener, especially after meals. It can be made of various seeds and nuts, but often found with fennel seeds, anise seeds, coconut, and sesame seeds. They are sweet in flavour and highly aromatic due to added sugar and the addition of various essential oils, including peppermint oil. The seeds can be savoury or sweet-coated in sugar and brightly coloured. Plain water drunk after chewing and consuming the fennel seeds contained therein tastes extremely sweet.

Mukhwas is awesome. We had it a lot in India, where they, after your meal, bring a little bowl of this fragrant herbal mix. You scoop up a teaspoon and pop it into your mouth. The fennel adds a wonderful liquorice taste that feels so right after a meal. Just the other week, a group of us girlfriends went for dinner at an Indian Restaurant in Rome, Maharajah. Wonderful butter chicken curry! After our meal, on the way out, I saw a bowl of Mukhwas and without hesitation got myself a good pinch. So good.

So, fennel has many benefits, but I’m choosing to highlight that it promotes healthy digestion because that is key to good health.

Here are some of the others

Bone health: Fennel contains a lot of manganese and calcium, great for healthy bones.

Skin Care: Fennel contains a good amount of Vitamin C, that helps with the production of collagen.

Blood Pressure: The Potassium in fennel can help regulate blood pressure.

Inflammation: Fennel has been used in Chinese Medicine to treat inflammatory conditions, like insect bites. The Chinese are pretty smart, so I’ll take their word for it. Nowadays, researchers are looking into how fennel could aid in inflammatory diseases like some cancers.

All in all, this is another natural whole ingredient to add to your shopping list. If you’re just looking to eat well and be healthy, it’s not necessary to go into too much detail. Whole foods, in their almost-natural state, are always great. They contain all sorts of goodness, naturally feeding your body with a variety of nutrients.

Fennel Uses:

Eating:
Buy whole fennel at the market, and use it for a variety of raw recipes, in salads or to dip into humus.
Add fennel seeds to your soups for an amazing flavour. Tomato soup goes particularly well with fennel seeds added.
Fennel is also great roasted. Drizzle with some oil and pop into the oven.
Drinking:
Fennel Tea is really refreshing. You can buy it in the shops as tea bags, or you could make your own at home, with fennel flowers or seeds.
Beauty:
Skin Care: Fennel contains a good amount of Vitamin C, that helps with the production of collagen.
Remedies:
Soothe digestive disorders like cramps, gas and constipation by drinking fennel tea. Get good quality tea or make your own.
Inflammation: Fennel has been used in Chinese Medicine to treat inflammatory conditions, like insect bites. The Chinese are pretty smart, so I’ll take their word for it. Nowadays, some are researching into how fennel could aid in the inflammatory diseases like some cancers.
Bone health: Fennel contains a lot of manganese and calcium, great for healthy bones.
Fungal infections of the skin
Replace smoking by instead eating roasted fennel seeds instead. Okay yes, this is a little more leftfield, but watch this video and try it for fun. Smoking is so bad for you, so why not give this natural approach a try?

Got any other fennel uses to share? Please add them in the comments below.

Practical Information:

Buying fennel
If you can, go to a local fruit and veg market. Here you'll likely find fresher and better prices options.
Look for healthy looking white bulbs. Heavy, firm, and nice and white (avoid ones that have browned a lot)
Cleaning Fennel to Eat:
Wash the fennel properly. Cut off most of the green celery-like stalks, and the base to the root.
Now cut it up however you want and enjoy! Check out some recipes further down.
Storing fennel
Fennel generally only lasts a few days in the fridge. Rather aim to buy fennel and use it fresh, when the flavour and crispness are it's best.

Got any other tips to share? Please share below in the comments, would love to learn more.


Simple Clean Fennel Recipes:

  • Fresh Fennel Salad with Citrus and Rocket
  • Homemade Tomato Soup with Aromatic Fennel Seeds
  • Homemade Fennel Seed Burger Patties and Rocket Salad
  • Homemade Fennel Tea

That’s all for today on the Fennel.

Key takeouts:

  • Fennel has an aromatic liquorice-like taste
  • Fennel promotes healthy digestion
  • Fennel is great raw or cooked
  • Fennel tea is soothing and refreshing

Ready to eat more fennel? I hope so!

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. I’d love to spread the love for Fennel, Finocchio (feeh/NOHK/kyoh). If you have useful information to share, please do so in the comments – We are always learning and I’d love to learn more. Hey, I may even quote it in the article!

Don’t miss next weeks Fennel Grapefruit Salad Post.

Ciao-for-now-xxxx

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