Know your Florence Fennel

Know your Florence Fennel - Introduction

  • Florence Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum, is an annual which is known mainly for the stem that swells to a "bulb" as it grows. 
  • It is similar to celery and can be used raw or cooked. 
  • It is very popular in Italian cooking, but foreign to many cooks. 
  • Fennel bulbs are readily available in the produce section of larger grocery stores and are worthy of trying.

Know your Florence Fennel - Common names

  • Florence fennel is also known as finocchio in Italy. 
  • In North American supermarkets, it is often mislabelled as "anise".

Know your Florence Fennel - Botany

  • Florence fennel is erect, glaucous green, and grows to heights of up to 2.5 m, with hollow stems. 
  • The leaves grow up to 40 cm long; they are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments filiform (threadlike), about 0.5 mm wide. (Its leaves are similar to those of dill, but thinner.) 
  • The flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels 5–15 cm wide, each umbel section having 20–50 tiny yellow flowers on short pedicels. 
  • The fruit is a dry seed from 4–10 mm long, half as wide or less, and grooved.
  • The  inflated leaf bases form an edible bulb-like structure.

Know your Florence Fennel - Cultivation

  • Florence Fennel is also easy to grow, and a lovely addition to the herb or vegetable garden with it's wispy foliage. 
  • If you purchase seeds or plants at a garden centre be sure to ask for Florence Fennel, as opposed to the Common FennelFoeniculum vulgare.

Know your Florence Fennel - Culinary uses

  • The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. 
  • Fennel pollen is the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive.
  • Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice, brown or green in colour when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the seed ages. 
  • For cooking, green seeds are optimal. 
  • The leaves are delicately flavoured and similar in shape to those of dill. 
  • The bulb is a crisp, hardy root vegetable and may be sauteed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.
  • Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with those of anise, which are very similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fennel is also used as a flavouring in some natural toothpaste.
  • Fennel features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine, where bulbs and fronds are used, both raw and cooked, in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes such as artichoke dishes in Greece, and risottos. 
  • Fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausages and meatballs and northern European rye breads.

Know your Florence Fennel - Other uses

  • Florence fennel was one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink in France and other countries.