Fennel is scientifically known as Foeniculum vulgare is a plant species and member of the Apiaceae family (formerly the Umbelliferae). It is a perennial umbelliferous herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. The fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with various culinary and medical uses and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe.
It is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, but has become widely naturalised in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on river-banks. The florence fennel or finocchio is a selection with a swollen bulb like stem base that is used as a vegetable. The word fennel derived from the Middle English word fenel or fenly which came from the old English word fenol or finol, which in turn came from the Latin feniculum or foeniculum meaning "hay".
Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet and adds a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, you must add the fennel to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best. Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible.
Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. Fennel is a versatile vegetable and plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. Greek myths stated that fennel was not only closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine, but a fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men.
Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise and its texture is similar to that of celery having a crunchy and striated texture. In ancient times, Greeks knew fennel by the name of ‘marathron’ and fennel has enjoyed a rich history; it grew in the field in which one of the great ancient battles was fought and was subsequently named the Battle of Marathon after this revered plant. Since ancient time, fennel has been cultivated throughout Europe, especially areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and the Near East.
The United States, France, India and Russia are among the leading cultivators of fennel. Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, strongly flavored leaves and fruits. Its aniseed flavor comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise, and its taste and aroma are similar to theirs, though usually not as strong. Their inflated leaf bases are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. Purpureum (Foeniculum vulgare) "bronze-leaved" fennel is widely available in the UK and grown as a decorative garden plant. Fennel pollen is the most potent form of fennel and also very expensive.
Dried fennel seed is aromatic, brown or green in color when fresh and slowly turns dull grey as the seed ages. For cooking, green seeds are optimal and the leaves are delicately flavored, looks similar in shape to dill. The bulb is a crisp, hardy root vegetable and may be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw. Fennel features prominently in Mediterranean cuisine especially in Greece and risstos where bulbs and fronds are used, both raw and cooked, in side dishes like salads, pastas, vegetable dishes such as artichoke dishes. Fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausages and meatballs and northern European rye breads.
Fennel is also a key ingredient to many Italian and German salads and often tossed with avocado or chicory. In Indian subcontinent and Middle East cooking, fennel seeds are used especially is one of the most important spices in Kashmiri Pandit and Gujarati cuisines.
Fennel is an essential ingredient in one of the popular spice mixture called the panch phoron in Assamese, Bengali and Oriya cuisine and also known as five spice powders in Chinese cuisine. Fennel is known as saunf or mauti saunf in Hindi and Urdu, mouri in Bengali, Shombu or Peruncheragam in Tamil and Malayalam, variyali in Gujarati, shomra in Arabic.
Roasted fennel seeds are also consumed in many parts of Pakistan and India consumed as Mukhwas known as an after-meal digestive and mouth freshener. Some people in farming communities also chew on fresh sprigs of green fennel seeds. Fennel leaves are used as leafy green vegetables mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as part of a meal, in some parts of India.
Fennel is also used as a flavoring in natural toothpaste apart from mint. Fennel is chiefly used medicinally for its carminative properties and as fennel water has properties similar to those of anise and dill water: mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup, these waters constitute the domestic 'gripe water', used to correct the flatulence of infants. Fennel can be made into syrup to treat babies with colic.
For adults, fennel seeds or tea can relax the intestines and reduce bloating caused by digestive disorders. Fennel seeds are also eaten raw, sometimes with some sweetener, as it is said to improve eyesight. Ancient Romans regarded fennel as the herb of sight. Some people use fennel as a diuretic as considered a potential drug for treatment of hypertension.
Fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant, able to neutralize free radicals in all aqueous environments of the body. If left unchecked, these free radicals cause cellular damage that results in the pain and joint deterioration that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The vitamin C found in fennel bulb is directly antimicrobial and is also needed for the proper function of the immune system.
Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a very good of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, and molybdenum. In addition, fennel is a good source of niacin as well as the minerals phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. The nutritional values per 100g of raw fennel seeds are: Energy: 130 kJ (31kcal) Carbohydrates: 7.29 g Dietary fiber: 3.1 g Fat: 0.20 g Protein: 1.24 g Vitamin C: 12 mg Calcium: 49 mg Iron: 0.73 mg Magnesium: 17 mg Phosphorus: 50 mg Potassium: 414 mg Zinc: 0.20 mg Manganese: 0.191 mg