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Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Apiaceae (parsley family)
Mediterranean. The plant's popularity spread northward during the middle ages, when it was grown in monastries .
Used plant part
Fruits. Other than most of their relatives, they retain a green colour after drying. As a rule of thumb, a bright green colour indicates a good quality.
In Italy, there is also small-scale usage of fennel pollen as an expensive and extravagant spice. The leaves and stalks can be eaten as a vegetable. Italian breeds with fleshy stem and leaves to be used as a vegetable are often referred to as Florence Fennel or Finocchio in English, but the name finocchio may mean any type of fennel in Italian.
Sweet and aromatic, anise-like flavour.
The contents of essential varies strongly (0.6 to 6%); fruits in the center of a umbel are generally greater, more green and stronger in fragrance. Time of harvest and climate are also important.
The essential oil of the most important fennel variety (var. dulce) contains anethole (50 to 80%), limonene (5%), fenchone (5%), estragole (methyl-chavicol), safrole, a-pinene (0.5%), camphene, ß-pinene, ß-myrcene and p-cymene. In contrast, the uncultivated form (var. vulgare) contains often more essential oil, but since it is characterized by the bitter fenchone (12 to 22%), it is of little value.
Fennel plants with flowers
Fennel fruits (often mistakenly referred to as seeds) are used throughout Europe and Asia, but there is no region where extensive fennel usage were especially typical. Many Mediterranean, Arabic, Iranian, Indian or even Central European dishes require a small dosage of it, and it is a component of the Chinese five spice powder as well as of the Bengali panch phoron. In India, the dried seeds are often dry-toasted before usage, which results in a less sweet and more savoury flavour.
Fennel is popular for meat dishes, but even more so for fish and sea food; its sweet taste also harmonizes with the earthy aroma of bread and gives pickles or vinegar a special flavour. Of the European countries, it is popular and much used in France and optionally part of the herbes de Provençe, a spice mixture from Southern France.
In Italy, fennel is very popular and appears in many Italian foods, e.g., sausages or pasta sauces; it is often contained, together with herbs (thyme, oregano), in the olive oil based marinades for vegetables and, sometimes, sea foods. The marinated vegetables are usually eaten as appetizers (antipasti), together with white bread and red wine.
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