What is fennel?
Fennel is increasingly popular in Australia, as we have inherited this aniseed-flavoured vegetable from Mediterranean cuisines. Sauté fresh fennel with green pear, chilli flakes and fennel seed and serve as a side dish with chicken or pork. The vegetable is delicious thinly sliced and used fresh in a salad with rocket leaves, dressed with vinaigrette.
Fennel originated in the Mediterranean, growing in dry soils near the sea and by river banks. The Romans valued the stalks and seeds of fennel and used it for medicinal purposes. It spread to Britain during the Roman occupation and the Anglo-Saxons considered it one of the nine sacred herbs.
The innocuous, delicate and feathery fennel wreaked havoc in France as one of the main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe, the alcoholic elixir that ruined many a Parisian artist and writer.
Fresh fennel is not sold by variety in Australia. Sometimes, baby fennel is available at supermarkets and fresh food markets. This is the same as common fennel but smaller.
Why fennel is good to eat
Fennel is a good source of vitamins A and C and contains minerals such as manganese (which is important in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- It is a good source of dietary fibre and folate.
- Fennel also provides iron, an essential mineral involved in red blood cell production in the body.
- Energy – 100 g of raw fennel supplies 130 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Fennel seeds grow best in warm, dry climates. The plant can grow up to 2 m tall. Fennel looks a little like celery as it has green stalks with feathery green leaves and a bulb or swollen base.
Fennel is ready to harvest 14 to 20 weeks after planting the seeds. The stalks of the plant become more fibrous as the plant ages. To harvest fennel, cut the bulb from the roots, a couple of centimetres above the ground (the leftover stump can be left to resprout).
If you allow fennel to grow, the plant will ‘bolt’ and produce seeds that can also be used in cooking.
Wild fennel can be found growing along the sides of the road and in vacant land. It does not have a bulb and is considered a noxious weed in some Australian states.
Choose fennel that has fresh, feathery leaves on top, smooth, glossy stalks and a firm plump bulb. Avoid selecting fennel with slimy, brown leaves or those with visible damage (such as bruising) on the stalks and bulb.
How to store and keep fennel
Store fennel in the crisper section of your fridge. You should use fennel within five days of buying it.
How to use
- Make a simple fennel and orange salad – toss sliced fennel with orange segments, sliced red onion (or shallots) and chopped fresh parsley and dress with oil, salt and pepper.
- For an easy side dish – sauté fennel in oil until tender, place in baking dish, grate parmesan cheese on top and bake until golden and crunchy.
- Fennel is great with roast meat or chicken – place fennel and carrots in a baking dish, drizzle with oil, honey and a splash of balsamic vinegar and bake until tender.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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