Fennel is so versatile and complex! We can use fresh fennel in our recipes and spice up our dishes with fennel seeds. But what do we do when we run out? We could try these fennel and fennel seed substitutes!
Fennel comes from the Mediterranean region but it has become popular worldwide due to its flavor profile and its versatility. The great thing about it is that every part of the aromatic plant can be eaten. The bulb is used as a vegetable, the seeds make an amazing, aromatic spice, and the feathery leaves are great as an aromatic herb. Since it’s so complex, we’re tackling replacements on all fronts.
Here are our picks when it comes to fennel and fennel seed alternatives.
Fennel and fennel seeds: flavor profile and culinary uses
Before we dive into the amazing and quite complex world of alternatives for fennel and fennel seeds, it’s important to focus on what this plant has to give. The plant’s uses and flavor profile will help us understand what to look for in a replacement. Then, maybe you’ll explore other condiments and herbs and let us know what alternatives you’ve discovered yourself. Until then…
Is it an herb, a spice, or a veggie? Well, it’s all of the above! Fennel is a Mediterranean herb but it has become more and more popular in Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. Now it’s famous all over the world, largely due to the many cooking shows; after all, how many of us cooked with fennel 10 or 20 years ago?
Fennel has a unique flavor profile. Combining anise and licorice aromas, fennel is quite fragrant. It has a deep, quite earthy tone, with a sweet taste and a warm flavor; while it is not as intense and pungent as anise, it is sweeter. The similarity of these three herbs lies in the composition: they all contain anethole, a chemical that gives the deep, complex aroma.
Fennel has the upper hand here since all of it can be consumed. It just depends on which part of the plant you’re looking to find a replacement for. Its flavor profile and complexity make fennel a good choice for many recipes:
- Fennel seeds can be sprinkled on top of your salad, in cream soup, sauces, dressings, on top of pasta, in refreshing dips, and can even added to meaty stews and meat products, such as sausages. They can be baked in all kinds of goodies, such as biscuits or bread. They can add flavor to pickles and many vegetables, ranging from asparagus to cucumbers or tomatoes. And they are amazing with fish. They can also be used to aromatize teas and beverages. And butter, yes, let’s not forget fennel butter!
- The finnochio, aka the bulb, has a mild, sweet aroma and a pleasant texture and can be eaten as a side to meats, curries, and fish.
- Fennel leaves can be eaten raw, used to garnish salads, in dips and dressings, or added to sauce-based foods or marinades. Just like the seeds, the leaves can also be added to curries, especially rich curries with lamb or potatoes. All the parts of the plant go perfectly with legumes and veggies such as cabbage, beets, and potatoes, and with lentils.
Did you know liqueurs, such as sambuca or absinthe, are made from fennel seeds? Also, did you know you can use Anisette liqueur and Pernod to get the same flavor as you’d get from fennel?
Now that you know everything about its flavor and its uses, here’s what can you replace fennel and fennel seeds with!
Fennel: powder or seeds. Are they the same?
Although it’s nice to have around, as happens with any other ingredient and spice, you can run out of it. Or maybe you don’t fancy its full flavor. After all many people find its licorice taste too strong. If that is the case, there are many substitutes for fennel and fennel seeds that can replicate some of its qualities. Some of them are so similar it’s not going to be an issue if you’ve run out.
Running out is probably never an issue in the markets of Italy and the South of France, since there are massive quantities of fennel for sale. But if you’re in another corner of the world, it’s best to know that if the fresh version is not available, the dry ones can help. How to substitute fennel and fennel seeds?
Well, dry and ground fennel, just like its seeds, can add the flavor you’re looking for. Grinding the seeds packs more flavor, so make sure to adjust the quantity as you cook; always use less ground fennel to keep the same flavor. And when it comes to other substitutes, make sure to read our suggestions about the perfect ratio you can use.
These are the best fennel and fennel seeds substitutes
What can I use as a substitute for fennel and fennel seeds?
If this is what you were asking yourself when you started reading, we’re pretty sure you’ll be excited to try out our suggestions. Fennel is quite the powerhouse when it comes to any number of recipes. And when it comes to health benefits, it’s filled with minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, so it’s no wonder it’s been used as a medicinal plant. And to ward off evil spirits too! I mean, it’s not just a great addition to your diet; is there anything this plant cannot do?
What spice can you use instead of fennel and fennel seeds? What legumes and vegetables can you cook with instead of fennel? What other leaves have a similar flavor? We know! Read your recipe, make sure you know which part of the fennel it requires, and let’s go!
Substitues for Fresh Fennel Bulb
When it comes to cooking the fennel bulb, the sky is the limit. Depending on your tastes, you can use it crunchy or with a smooth texture. Don’t dismiss it! Give it a chance. Just like you should give these alternatives a go if you’re out of fennel.
Looking for fresh fennel substitutes? You probably have celery stalks in your fridge!
Well, celery is a great choice. Both celery and fennel are from the carrot family and they have similarities in flavor. They are both intense-salty-sweet with a fragrant aroma, somewhat in between citrus and pine. And they have similar textures as well: crispy and crunchy when raw and soft when cooked.
Surprise! Artichoke can replace fresh fennel.
Artichoke hearts have a similar texture to fennel, crispy-creamy when cooked. When it comes to aromas, they are rich, unctuous, and deeply earthy with lemony freshness. Use them braised, grilled, boiled, steamed, as a garnish, or added to salads. You can use them in the same ratio as fennel.
3. Bok Choy
We bet you didn’t think of this one. But bok choy is one of the best substitutes for fennel bulb. While the taste is not exactly similar, bok choy does have a slightly bitter-sweet aroma, with mustard and horseradish undertones, and the texture is very much the same. Bok choy is rather earthy, while fennel is a little floral and fragrant, but they are both crispy when raw and soft and creamy when cooked.
4. Mild Onions
Mild onions can flavor your food just like fresh fennel.
If you’re looking for a sweet, bulby vegetable with a creamy, rich, soft texture and yet a certain bite to it, mild onion is a great choice for replacing fennel. It works better in recipes that require cooked fennel, but be mindful not to overcook it since it will lose its flavor. Use it in equal amounts.
If the recipe calls for fennel and you’re out but you have leeks, give them a chance. Their flavor is not similar to fennel, so keep that in mind. But they are milder than onions and have the same bite as raw fennel and the creaminess of cooked fennel.
Substitutes for Fennel Leaves
It’s no wonder it’s used to freshen breath! Nor is it surprising it’s used to alleviate digestive problems. Fennel leaves are as healing as they are tasty. But they are not irreplaceable.
6. French Tarragon
What herb is similar to fennel? French tarragon can do the trick!
Tarragon packs a lot of anise and licorice flavor. You can use it in the same amount as fennel seeds and you can use it dry or fresh. It works best in savory recipes. Tarragon is a good replacement for fennel in meat and fish dishes.
Dill can be used as a fennel and fennel seed replacement.
They even look similar when it comes to their leaves. With a potent flavor, minty-lemony-piny aromas, a refreshing kick and tanginess, and a bitter-sweet tone, dill leaves can replace fennel leaves. Use them in pickles, dips, stews, sauces, soups, dressings, fish, veggies, salads, and meat dishes. Since dill is less aromatic than fennel, consider using a little more.
Parsley has a warming effect and adds a certain brightness to any dish. It has a salty, mildly bitter, floral, herby, and earthy taste. And it can replace fennel leaves in garnishes, marinades, sauces, soups, stews, dressings, and salads.
Coriander is similar to parsley, just more fragrant. While it won’t give the same anise-like flavor as fennel, it works great with fish, chicken, turkey, and white meats in general, but also with veggies.
10. Mexican Avocado Leaves
And here comes the kicker: Mexican avocado leaves.
Fresh, toasted Mexican avocado leaves have a mild flavor that reminds you of fennel. They can be used in soups, sauces, meats, broths, stews. Use them in equal amounts as fennel.
11. Another Mexican Staple instead of Fresh Fennel: Hoja Santa Leaves
We can’t talk about fennel and fennel seed substitutes without mentioning hoja santa leaves. Aroma-wise, they can replace both the leaves and the seeds, having the same anise flavor. Still, hoja santa can have a peppery taste too. They work great with fish, meat, tamales, soups, stews, soups, anything with sauce. Use a smaller amount than fennel, maybe start with a ⅓ and go from there.
12. Thai Basil
While Thai basil may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a replacement for fennel, it is a good choice. Thai basil is highly aromatic and fragrant, with a sharp and peppery, clear, and intense aroma of anise. So maybe start with a smaller quantity and adjust as you go.
Fennel Seed Alternatives
There’s nothing quite like a freshly baked batch of biscuits or bread with fennel seeds. And to boost digestion and relieve inflammation, there’s nothing quite like a flavored cup of fennel seed tea. Well, not quite nothing…
What spice is similar to fennel seeds? Anise!
Anise seeds lend a great flavor to meat and sweet dishes. And they are the best choice when it comes to replacing fennel. They have the same licorice flavor, with a sweet and deep aroma. Anise seeds are, however, more pungent than fennel seeds, though they can be used in the same quantity.
14. Cumin Seeds
Cumin seeds make good fennel seeds alternatives.
Cumin seeds have a distinctive, quite complex flavor. They are earthy and have a certain depth with nutty undertones. They have a warming effect and their spiciness reminds you of lemon. But they can replace fennel seeds.
Cumin is the best alternative for anything sauce-based and any type of curry, but also in stews, chili, meats, marinades, fish, and veggies. And yes, baked goods, just like fennel seeds. Cumin seeds can replace fennel seeds in equal quantity.
15. Licorice Root
What’s a good substitute for fennel and fennel seeds? Surprise: it’s licorice root!
Since fennel has an intense licorice flavor, actual licorice can easily replace it and no one will know the difference. Licorice is rather strong in flavor and has a sweet taste so the trick is to use a smaller quantity. If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of fennel seeds, then go for less than half a teaspoon of licorice root powder.
16. Dill Seeds
Dill can be a good choice as a fennel and fennel seed replacement. Both its leaves and seeds can be used instead of fennel, although they are not as flavorful. Remember that dill seeds have a spicy kick before you double the quantity to get the same flavor as fennel.
17. Caraway Seeds
Their aromatic profile resembles anise and fennel. They have that earthy taste with a licorice flavor. They also pack a citrusy aroma, making them a refreshing choice for many dishes. Still, caraway seeds have a stronger licorice flavor than fennel and a more intense bitterness to them.
Caraway goes best in bread and other baked goods. But they are also great in potatoes, soups, sauces (especially tomato-based), fruit, and salads with mayo, veggies, especially sauerkraut and cabbage, roasted meats, and briskets.
Fenugreek is a good option when you run out of fennel seeds.
While fenugreek is a legume not an herb like fennel, it has a similar flavor to fennel seeds. Fennel seeds are sweeter than fenugreek. The perfect ratio when swapping them is 1:2.
Mahlab seeds have a sweet and sour taste, reminding you of the tartness of cherries. They have an almond aftertaste but they can replace fennel seeds, especially in cookies, bread, baked goods, and sweet dairy puddings.
20. Mustard Seeds
You can also add mustard seeds to your list.
While mustard seeds do not have the pungency of anise, they have a horseradish flavor, with a peppery earthiness. They are bitter-sweet and have a robust spiciness that can stand in for fennel seeds. Use them in spice rubs and pickles when whole and, if ground, in any recipe that calls for fennel seeds.
21. Coriander Seeds
Coriander seeds are equally aromatic as fennel seeds.
Ground coriander seeds have a potent, intense, and pungent aroma. They can replace fennel seeds but be careful since they can overpower the dish. Add them to any recipe that calls for fennel seeds in a 1:2 ratio and go from there.
Fennel is not that easy to substitute. Whether boiled, steamed, cooked, raw, grilled, baked, or pickled, fennel has a certain je ne sais quoi. The bulb has a crunchy texture that can be hard to replicate. The leaves and seeds have a fragrant, complex aroma that can be tricky to match. But, when needed, there are ways around it. You don’t have to ditch the recipe.