Fennel is a vegetable used in all kinds of cuisines. The only problem is that many people don’t know how to substitute for fennel when cooking.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Although fennel has a distinct flavor, you can substitute it with many herbs and spices that have a similar flavor to it.
This article discusses the best substitutes for fennel, including dill, celery, tarragon, and more.
What Is Fennel?
Fennel is a perennial plant that grows in temperate climates. It belongs to the Apiaceae family and is related to parsley, dill, carrots, and caraway.
Fennel has an aroma that is both sweet and savory, and a taste that is similar to anise or licorice. It grows wild in most parts of the world and you can find it in many supermarkets and health food stores.
There are three parts of the fennel plant: the feathery leaves, the stalk, and the bulbous bottom. You can chop up the leaves and stalks, then add them to dishes such as salads and stews.
The bulb is where most of the flavor is concentrated. You can eat it raw or add it to a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, and sauces.
Fennel and dill are both members of the carrot family, so it’s not surprising that their flavors are similar. Both have a mild anise-like taste and aroma. However, the fennel’s flavor is sweeter than dill’s.
If you are unable to get your hands on fennel (or don’t like the flavor), then try using dill as a substitute. It isn’t going to ruin your dish: it will just be a bit different from what you’re used to.
Celery is a good substitute for fennel in many recipes. It has a similar taste profile to fennel, and you can use it in several ways. For example, you can add celery to soups and stews as an aromatic veggie, or serve it raw with dips. It also makes for a great salad ingredient.
Tarragon is a member of the sunflower family, and it’s much easier to find than fennel. It has a pungent licorice-like flavor, and it’s often used in French cooking.
To substitute tarragon for fennel, add tarragon to your dish at the beginning of the cooking process. However, keep in mind that this herb is not as sweet as fennel, so you may want to increase the amount of sugar or honey you use in your recipe.
If you’re looking for an alternative for fennel seeds, try aniseed. This spice is from the dried fruit of the anise plant, which is related to parsley and carrots.
It has a strong licorice flavor, so you only need a little when using it as a replacement for fennel seeds. You can use aniseed in both savory and sweet dishes.
Caraway, also known as Persian cumin, is a biennial plant from the same family as parsley. It does share some characteristics with fennel, but it is not as intense.
Nevertheless, you can use caraway as a substitute for fennel in many ways. For instance, you can use caraway seeds in place of fennel seeds when making sausages, bread, and biscuits.
Caraway’s leaves and roots are also edible and you can use them as a replacement for fennel bulbs or leaves when making salads or soups.
Leeks look like overgrown scallions, but they have a sweeter, more mellow flavor than either scallions or fennel. They are also crunchier than fennel.
To use leeks as a substitute for fennel, look for small to medium-size leeks that are white with just a bit of green at the top. If you can only find large leeks, use only the white part and about half the green part.
Onion is a great substitute for fennel, especially in sauces and stews. It provides a similar aroma and flavor, but without the anise taste.
It’s also important to know that onion is more pungent than fennel and so may change the taste of certain dishes. Before adding it to your dish, slice or dice and soak in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes to mellow its flavor.
SEE: How to Tell if an Onion Is Bad Before You Cut It Open
8. Star Anise
Star anise is a spice that has a flavor similar to licorice. You can use it in place of fennel in most recipes, but it is important to remember that it is more pungent than fennel.
Endive is a leaf vegetable belonging to the genus Cichorium, which includes several similar leafed vegetables. It has a slightly bitter taste, and it’s often used in salads or as an ingredient in soups and stews.
You can use red or white endive as a substitute for fennel in many dishes, though you may want to add some sweetness to offset the bitterness.
10. Bok Choy
Bok choy is a sweet and tender vegetable that can be used to replace other vegetables in many recipes. It looks like celery with large leaves and has a crunchy texture.
If you are looking for a fennel substitute, especially to use in salads and light dishes, bok choy could be a good option. Just keep in mind that it is denser than fennel, so you might want to use it a little more.
Chervil is a much subtler herb than fennel and has a milder anise flavor. It’s also more delicate than fennel and can be easily overpowered by other herbs and spices.
When using chervil as a substitute for fennel, it’s best to use it in dishes that are less assertive in flavor. It’s especially good with fish, egg dishes, and poultry.
Cumin is an incredibly popular spice that you can use in everything from curries and soups to bread and pickling. It is also a common ingredient in Indian, North African, and Mexican cooking.
You can use cumin as a substitute for fennel, but it will provide a slightly different flavor to your dish. It also has a stronger aroma and flavor, so use less of it than you would fennel.
Cilantro is a great substitute for fennel in any recipe that calls for the herb to be added to the dish at the end of cooking. A good example of this is using cilantro instead of fennel in a salsa recipe.
15. Hoja Santa
Hoja santa (Piper Auritum) is a plant with large, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves have a strong anise flavor, similar to fennel and tarragon. You can try using Hoja Santa leaves instead of fennel in dishes such as tamales, soups, stews, and even seafood moles.
16. Garam Masala
This mix of spices from Northern India contains fennel along with other spices, such as cardamom and cinnamon. The taste is spicier and more complex than fennel alone, but it will work as a substitute if you don’t have any fennel on hand.
You can also make your own garam masala by combining 1/4 teaspoon of each ground cardamom, black pepper, and cumin with 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Why Does Fennel Need Substitutes?
Fennel is one of those veggies that you may not like if you haven’t been exposed to it in your childhood. It has an anise-like licorice flavor, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Moreover, some people are unable to find fennel at their local market or grocery store. In this case, there are two options: use a substitute or forget about making the dish.
Is tarragon in the same family as fennel?
No, it is not. Tarragon is a member of the sunflower family and it is related to chamomile, chicory, and ragweed. Fennel, on the other hand, belongs to the carrot family along with dill and cumin.
Can you eat fennel raw?
Yes, you can. Fennel is one of those vegetables that you can eat raw or cook in many different ways. If you like your fennel raw, try combining it with a salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and chopped onions for a nice crunchy mix.
What meat goes well with fennel?
Chicken. Chicken and fennel go together like peas and carrots (or peas and onions). Fennel also pairs well with other meats such as pork, beef, and lamb.
Some of the best substitutes for fennel are celery, dill, and tarragon. You can also try other alternatives such as bok choy, star anise, or even garam masala.
While none of these substitutes will provide the exact aroma and flavor of fennel, they are close enough to use in recipes that call for fennel.
Thanks for reading.
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