What does fennel taste like and how do you cook it?

Want to add more fennel to your diet? Chefs say the vegetable can be eaten alone or as an ingredient in recipes. (Photo: Getty Creative)

The incredibly early arrival of spice-flavored pumpkin everything it means one thing and one thing only: Our palates are doomed. (Just kidding… sort of.) The arrival of pumpkin spice in lattes, muffins and more means fall is just around the corner. And while I may be a fan of pumpkin spice (I wrote the cookbook Basic bitchafter all), there are plenty of other seasonal vegetables—like fennel—that deserve the spotlight during arguably the best time of year.

A cold-weather flavor that never gets enough fanfare, fennel is a hollow-stemmed flowering bulb that lends a wonderful anise-like quality to any dish without overpowering it. It also comes with a number of proven health benefits that are said to stave off the inevitable flu or cold.

Top cook Alum Chris Cosentino, owner and chef, says any home cook can incorporate fennel into their weeknight meals.

What is fennel?

Native to the Mediterranean, the layered bulbous vegetable with edible seeds and flowers can be used as an ingredient in recipes or eaten on its own, raw or cooked, as a complement to more decadent spreads.

A raw fennel salad with celery, apple and walnut.  (Photo: Getty Creative)

A raw fennel salad with celery, apple and walnut. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Although it may look like an onion, the fennel plant is actually part of the carrot family and comes in three varieties: common (entirely edible with flowers that are crushed to create fennel pollen), sweet (used primarily as an herb) and bulb (otherwise known as Florence or fennel, which we treat and eat like a vegetable).

What does fennel taste like?

Fennel boasts an anise-like licorice flavor that can become very sweet when cooked.

“I find it’s similar to tarragon, but not as intense,” Cosentino tells Yahoo Life. “The lamp [also] it tastes sweeter, while fennel leaves have a brighter, more grassy flavor.”

“Fennel seeds are pungent and impart an aniseed flavor when roasted,” he adds. “Wild fennel pollen is the most aromatic and unique [of the preparations].”

What are the health benefits of fennel?

Those suffering from gastrointestinal problems may find relief in fennel, which is said to reduce gas-causing bacteria.

In addition, fennel is rich in iron, calcium and vitamins A and C, which are scientifically proven to help with bone strength and boost the immune system. The nutritious vegetable is also low in carbs with zero sugar, making it a healthy addition to your daily food pyramid.

Its high level of vitamins leads fennel to be often added to fresh juices.  (Photo: Getty Creative)

Its high level of vitamins leads fennel to be often added to fresh juices. (Photo: Getty Creative)

How to shop for fennel

Look for vivid green leaves on long branches. Withered leaves are a sign that the crop is on the road to rot. His bulbs should also be white, bright and bruise-free.

Late winter to early spring is when the plant blooms, but you can find the freshest fennel during any month when the weather is cool.

“There are also two kinds of bulbs,” reveals Cosentino. “Narrow bulbs are male and rounder bulbs are female. I prefer rounder bulbs for baking and cooking while thinner bulbs are better for shaving.”

How to cook fennel

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a flavor that fennel doesn’t work well with,” says Cosentino. “It reduces the fat and richness of heavy dishes, but then also works well with lighter, more delicate preparations like fish.”

Fennel can also be roasted with proteins such as chicken and fish.  (Photo: Getty Creative)

Fennel can also be roasted with proteins such as chicken and fish. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Of course, you can always roast and caramelize the sliced ​​bulbs in an oven to serve as a simple side, but Cosentino recommends that anyone new to fennel shave the bulbs raw and add them to a salad or slaw. This will allow you to experience it in its purest form.

As for fall inspiration, Cosentino plans to harvest fennel himself and weave it into the dishes served at his restaurant. Wild fennel pollen will season the fish and can be served with a salad of fennel, apple, aged cheddar and tarragon. He also hopes to debut a savory fennel tart Tatin, to which he plans to add tête de moine cheese.

No matter how you swing it—err, cut it—fennel is a great vegetable to have on hand as the temperatures drop and comfort foods come out in full swing. It’s a perfect light accompaniment to fall favorites like stews, pot roasts and chili that have a heavy flavor and depth. It’s also an ingredient where you can use almost all of its components, so consider it an earth-friendly investment in both your health and your haute cuisine.

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