From seed to plate: the story of fennel seed

July 22, 2019 7:48 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We sell organic fennel seed at Naturally Good Food, in 500g and 1kg packs. Fennel seed has a distinctive, aniseed-like flavour – it’s often taken as a remedy for indigestion or to freshen breath. It’s also used widely in Indian and Chinese dishes and in herbal teas, and we like the seeds sprinkled onto vegetables, bakes and roasts, too!

What do you know about fennel?

We know lots about how to use fennel – but until very recently, we were completely in the dark about most other aspects of this herb. We didn’t know how it was grown, or where, how it was harvested, and why it was so good for us. We’re following the ‘stories’ of various ingredients this month, from seed to plate. When it came to choosing a herb to follow, we opted for fennel – so that we could find out much more about this flavoursome ingredient.

Family roots

The first surprising thing we discovered about fennel is that it’s actually a member of the carrot family (there’s even a Longfellow poem, from the 1800s, talking about its reputed ability to help eyesight – much as we talk about carrots today). We’ve been using it in this country for ever: it features in the Old English Nine Herbs Charm from the 10th century. We called it ‘finule’ back then – but I like its Greek name, too: ‘marathon’, naming the area in which it grows freely. Could it perhaps help you run a marathon too? We’ll find out a little lower down!

To get fennel seed, you start with seed! Fennel seeds need to be planted out at a time when you’re likely to get plenty of sun. In much of the UK, that won’t be until the summer months, but if you live in a guaranteed sun-trap, you can plant out from springtime onwards. Whenever you plant, make sure you choose a sunny spot: fennel originated in the Mediterranean and it’s these bright, sunny conditions you’re looking to replicate. But water is important too – the soil needs to be kept moist. In the Med, fennel grows best along the rivers and coasts.

Fennel seeds grow into tall stems (up to 2.5 metres tall), producing yellow flowers in early summer, with large feathery leaves. The flowers are very pretty, but they’re also attractive to all kinds of helpful insects. If you take a look at a picture of the plants, you might think you’ve seen them before, growing along hedgerows and roadsides. And you might be right – fennel is quick to seed outside of its main growing areas, and in parts of the US and Australia is actually considered a weed!

When the flowers die, the seeds become visible and are then easy to harvest: the flower heads are snipped off and dried further to encourage the seeds to drop off. A little bit of cleaning takes place, before the seeds are packaged in bulk and sold off to wholesalers. We receive ours from Infinity Foods, based in Brighton: they’re greeny-browny-grey in colour and rich in flavour, thanks to the aromatic compound anethole (also found in anise and star anise). We relish their scent as we pack down the larger bags for our customers.

Can it help you run a marathon?

It can’t hurt. Fennel seeds provide 1,440 Kj (345kcal) of energy per 100g and are a good source of protein, fibre and B vitamins. You’ll find calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese there too. But you’re unlikely to eat these seeds in huge quantities all by themselves – instead, you’ll need some great recipes to put them in. Here you are!

Three great fennel seed recipes

Sweet fennel lollipops (we couldn’t resist including this recipe, but you will have to sugar-coat the fennel seeds yourself)

Peshwari lamb kebabs with fennel seeds 

Fish stew with fennel seeds


Buy our organic fennel seeds here!

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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