Fennel – Sometimes Loved, Sometimes Underestimated

The fennel bulb looks pretty and smells aromatic. However, only a few know exactly how to prepare the fennel. You can find all information about fennel with us, such as its nutritional values, its effects on health, ideas for the right preparation, and, of course, delicious fennel recipes.

Fennel – Flowers, fruits, and bulbs

There is hardly any other plant that can be used in so many ways as fennel. Its flowers are a rich pasture for bees, sweeten teas and provide the basis for syrup. As a spice and tea, its fruits (seeds) help with flatulence, coughing, and restlessness, and its tuber is extremely nutritious and a real blessing for health as a vegetable or salad.

The vegetable fennel is also a living example of the fact that Mediterranean cuisine has much more to offer than pasta. Because in Italy, for example, fennel is just as regularly on the menu as pizza, pasta, and the like.

In the beginning, was the wild fennel

Like celery, parsley, and carrots, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) belongs to the Umbelliferae family and originally comes from Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region. Wild fennel is, so to speak, the original form of fennel and was already well-known in ancient times as a medicinal plant and kitchen spice.

In Mesopotamia, for example, pneumonia was treated with hot fennel poultices, and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans appreciated the effectiveness of fennel tea against coughing, flatulence, and other digestive problems.

In addition, the fennel was also said to have a magical effect: the Greeks wore it as a wreath around their necks during their religious mystery plays, and in the Middle Ages it was put in door frames and keyholes to protect themselves from all kinds of evil powers.

The wild fennel is still widespread in the Mediterranean region – its leaves, fruits (seeds) and flowers are still popular there to give regional dishes and drinks that special touch. In Italy, fennel pollen is also used as a very expensive and exclusive spice, which is also indicated by its name “la spezia degli angeli” (angel spice).

In our region, however, the spice fennel and the tuber fennel (vegetable fennel) are mainly known. Both have emerged from wild fennel over the course of time through breeding.

Fennel – Medicinal plant, spice, and vegetable

A distinction is made between three fennel varieties:

  1. Wild fennel, or bitter fennel, has been classified as a traditional herbal medicinal product by the Herbal Medicinal Product Committee (HMPC). Primarily, the bitter-tasting fruits, which are commonly referred to as seeds, and the essential fennel oil obtained from them are used.
  2. The spice fennel or sweet fennel is also used in medicine, but it’s sweet (and hardly bitter) fruits are also used for seasoning in the kitchen.
  3. In contrast to the other two varieties, the vegetable, bulb or tuber fennel is characterized by its thick, fleshy tuber, which gained great importance as a vegetable in Italy from around the 17th century.

But although the tuber fennel plays no role in naturopathy, it is still invaluable for health.

The nutrients in fennel

Like vegetables in general, fennel contains hardly any fat and the sugar content is very low. Our nutrient table shows the nutritional values ​​of 100 g of fresh fennel:

  • 83.3 grams of water
  • 0.3 grams of fat
  • 2.4 grams of protein
  • 2.8 g carbohydrates (of which 2.8 g sugars: 1.3 g glucose and 1.1 g fructose)
  • 4.2 grams of dietary fiber

The Calories in Fennel

As is usual with vegetables, fennel consists of more than 80 percent water and only brings 25 kilocalories per 100 g onto the plate, which is why the tasty vegetable does not put a strain on the body in any way.

The Glycemic Load

The glycemic index (GI) indicates how much the blood sugar level rises after carbohydrates have been ingested from food. The higher the GI, the more negatively a food affects blood sugar levels. The GI of fennel is 15 – values ​​up to 55 are considered low.

However, since the GI always refers to 100 g of carbohydrates in the respective food, no matter how high the carbohydrate content is, it is better to pay attention to the glycemic load (GL). Because this refers to the number of carbohydrates contained per serving. 100 g of fresh fennel has an extremely low GL of 0.4 (values ​​up to 10 are considered low). For this reason, fennel is a wonderful choice for those who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes.

The vitamins

The fennel is – compared to carrots or peppers – quite colorless, but in terms of vitamin content, it is a real power plant. Just 100 g of the vegetable is enough to fully cover the daily requirement of vitamin K and beta-carotene. Our vitamin table gives you an overview of all vitamin values.

The minerals

Although the mineral content in fennel is not as high as its vitamin content, the tuber does not have to hide in this regard. All mineral values ​​can be found in our mineral table.

Why is fennel so healthy?

A bulb of fennel weighs between 250 and 400 g. It is white to light green and built up in layers like an onion. At the top, the tuber ends in bright green stalks, which are provided with the dill-like, delicate fennel green. As is usual with vegetables, 100 g of fennel consists of more than 80 percent water and brings only 19 calories to the plate, which is why the tasty vegetable does not put a strain on the body in any way.

Incidentally, the strong fennel aroma is the result of a high content of essential oils. The essential oils are largely responsible for the healing properties of fennel. They support digestion, have an anti-inflammatory effect, and strengthen the stomach. They also promote blood circulation and stimulate liver and kidney activity. However, the essential oils evaporate when you cook the sweet fennel. Raw formulations are therefore cheaper if you want the full effect of the essential oils.

The fennel also provides plenty of vital substances, which – if you eat the fennel regularly – can contribute enormously to covering the daily requirement for vital substances:

Potassium in Fennel

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) recommends that adults consume 4.7 g of potassium per day to prevent chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, kidney stones, bone loss, or stroke. The fennel bulb is particularly rich in potassium – 100 g of the vegetable already contains 395 mg of potassium. If you want to protect yourself from a potassium deficiency, you should regularly include fennel in your diet.

Calcium in Fennel

Around 1000 mg of calcium cover the daily requirement – and 100 g of fennel already contain a good 10 percent of it, namely around 110 mg of calcium. The fennel can therefore make a wonderful contribution to optimizing the calcium supply in a plant-based diet. A 200g serving of fennel contains about the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk but is far healthier and easier to digest.

Iron in the fennel

100 g of fennel contains 2.7 mg of iron, which corresponds to about a quarter of the recommended daily dose. Iron plays a very important role in the body as it is essential for vital oxygen transport. Iron strengthens the muscles, ensures a beautiful complexion, and is important for the hair, nails, and mucous membranes.

Beta carotene in fennel

Beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the body. This is important for growth, mucous membranes, blood cells, metabolism, and the eyes. Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin A: 100 g of fennel contains so much beta-carotene that the body can produce around 0.8 mg of vitamin A from it, which corresponds to almost 100 percent of the daily vitamin A requirement (1 mg).

Vitamin B in fennel

The vitamin B group includes 8 vitamins – fennel contains all the B vitamins apart from vitamin B12. If you eat a portion of 200 g of fennel, you can cover about a third of the recommended daily dose of vitamin B1 and about 40 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin B9 (folic acid). Vitamin B1 strengthens the heart and muscles, but stressed people also benefit from the so-called “nerve vitamin”. Folic acid, on the other hand, is important in the body for growth processes, cell division, and healthy blood formation.

Vitamin C in fennel

Some sources state 93 mg of vitamin C per 100 g of raw tuber for fennel, which we have also adopted so far. However, this turned out to be incorrect, so with the update from October 24th, 2021 we unfortunately only have to specify 9 mg instead of 93 mg (source is the current version of the Federal Food Code 3.02).

Vitamin E in fennel

Vitamin E protects the blood vessels and the heart, reduces the risk of cancer, and can prevent dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The minimum daily dose for adults is 12 mg of vitamin E. 50 percent of this daily requirement can be covered with 100 g of fennel vegetables alone. This is very unusual as vitamin E is usually found mainly in high-fat foods (oils, nuts, seeds), while most other vegetables provide vitamin E levels of just under 1 mg.

The more often you eat fennel, the better your supply of vital substances and the better you are protected against aggressive diseases. It is one thing to know how healthy the fennel bulb is, but another thing to consider when preparing it so that the taste experience does not fall by the wayside.

Fennel brings a breath of fresh air into the kitchen

In Italy, the undisputed credo is that fennel refines every dish, intensifies the good taste, and drowns out the bad taste. Once upon a time, cunning Italian wine merchants deliberately served their customer’s fresh fennel before tasting to distract from the wine’s weak points. The Italian idiom “lasciarsi infinocchiare” (freely translated: “let oneself be encased”) can be traced back to this “custom”, which means something like fooling someone.

The fennel bulb can be prepared in a variety of ways and harmonizes with virtually all foods. If you find the taste something you need to get used to, you should first mix the fennel with other Mediterranean vegetables such as e.g. B. combine tomatoes, peppers, or olives.

But fennel also goes well with fish and seafood, cucumbers, carrots, Parmesan cheese, risotto, and pasta. In terms of spices, fennel goes well with z. B. good with saffron, rosemary, curry, and chili. However, fennel is not only suitable as a side dish or part of starters and main courses, but also as a smart component in fruit salads and smoothies. Whether with pineapple, oranges, strawberries, or kiwis: the fennel bulb really packs a punch!

Anyone who has never come into contact with fennel is probably wondering what needs to be considered when preparing it.

How is fennel prepared?

Before getting down to business, the fennel is prepared as follows:

If necessary, the outer 1 to 2 hard leaves should be removed. However, if the fennel is very fresh, this is usually not necessary and washing is sufficient. The stalks are generally rather woody and are cut away or saved for soups. Finely chopped fennel greens can also be added to the vegetables.

The fennel bulbs are then thoroughly washed under running water, as sand or soil can very easily collect in the gaps. Depending on the recipe and use, the tuber is then halved or quartered before the stalk is cut out. Now the fennel can be cut into small oblong pieces, cubes, or slices and processed into numerous delicacies, such as fennel soup.

Fennel soups are healthy fast food

A fennel soup is prepared so quickly that it can be described as fast food, of course as healthy fast food. Because the fennel does not require any time-consuming cleaning work, it can therefore be cut in no time and steamed in the pot. Add a creamy ingredient, such as B. coconut milk, oat cream, soy cream, or rice cream, and a delicious spice combination, such. B. Ginger, curry, and lemon balm or some grated lemon, as a reader recommended, and a delicious fennel curry soup is ready.

You can cook, grill, deep-fry, or simply eat the fennel raw

The simplest preparation method is steaming in a little water. The cooking time is about 8 to 12 minutes. After the cooking time, season with sea or herb salt and drizzle with a little fat, if you like, e.g. B. some olive oil, organic or organic margarine. In addition to this basic recipe, there are of course other preparation options:

  • Raw fennel: True fennel lovers and minimalists like to nibble they’re darling raw and thus enjoy the extensive vitamins it contains. In Italy, it is customary to cut the fennel into fine pieces and dip it in salt. In addition, raw fennel is also an excellent ingredient for the most colorful salads, for example with tomatoes, oranges, olives, and walnuts. As a dressing, you can z. B. Use olive oil or hazelnut oil, lemon juice, or high-quality organic balsamic vinegar.
  • Raw fennel as juice: If you want to enjoy the vital substances of raw fennel but don’t like it in a salad or finger food, then juice the fennel! Freshly squeezed fennel juice tastes wonderful when you put it through the juicer together with apples, carrots, beetroot, and some pineapple. Of course, you can also juice some parsley or other green leafy vegetables.
  • Cooked fennel: The fennel is simply cut into quarters and boiled in enough salted water or organic butter for about 12 minutes. You can keep the cooked fennel in the fridge for 2-3 days if you put it in ice water immediately after cooking.
  • Braised fennel: Cut the fennel into even 3-4 cm pieces and roast them in olive oil for a few minutes. Then deglaze with a little water, vegetable stock, or white wine and simmer the vegetables at a medium temperature until the desired cooking point.
  • Roasted fennel: The fennel bulb is not really suitable for cooking in the oven, as it quickly tastes leathery when the water escapes. However, if you cut the fennel into pieces that are not too large and roast it with other types of vegetables such as peppers and aubergines, it gives the oven vegetables their unmistakable aroma.
  • Fried fennel: Cut the fennel into 1 cm thick sticks (like french fries), pat dry with kitchen paper, and coat first in beaten egg and then in flour. The fennel sticks are then fried in peanut oil (not too hot!) for about 6 minutes.
  • Grilled fennel: The fennel is cut into thin slices (approx. 2 to 3 mm), brushed with olive oil, and fried on both sides on a hot grill pan for a few minutes. Then you can drizzle the fennel slices with a delicious sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley (or peppermint) – and enjoy!

Fennel green is edible

The green fennel – i.e. the leaves of the fennel – is also edible and can be used in the kitchen: Our following recipe example should give you an idea of ​​the delicacies you can conjure up with the green fennel, which unfortunately is all too often thrown away.

Fennel: tips on purchasing and storage

You may have noticed that both round and oblong fennel bulbs are available on the market. In Italy, the two forms, which depend on the variety and cultivation, are each assigned a gender – the round fennel bulbs are referred to as male and the elongated ones as female. However, this distinction is not of a scientific nature, but only so common in general usage.

Which shape you choose now depends on how you want to prepare the fennel: While the round, fleshy bulbs with significantly less fiber are very well suited to be eaten raw, the elongated bulbs should be used in a cooking or frying pan frying recipe are processed.

You should also make sure that the fennel is fresh when you buy it. You can tell this by the fact that the leafy weed looks fresh and bright green and is not hanging limp (or has even been cut away completely so that you don’t see its wilted quality). The tuber should also be white and have no brown spots, and the cuts should not be dried.

As with other types of vegetables, the same applies to fennel: the fresher, the better. Since long storage is inevitably accompanied by a loss of taste and a decrease in vitamin content, the fennel should be eaten as soon as possible. You can also wrap the tuber in a damp cloth or cling film and keep it in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for a maximum of two weeks. The fennel is also good for freezing – either raw or briefly blanched.

If you have a garden, you can also grow the tuber fennel yourself and enjoy it freshly harvested.

What is important when growing fennel

The fennel loves the Mediterranean climate. The main growing areas include Italy, Spain, southern France, Greece, and North Africa. In Central Europe, sweet fennel is grown particularly in the warmer regions, e.g. B. in the German Rhineland. In order to be able to meet demand, it is mainly imported from Italy and can be bought all year round.

A positive aspect here is that the tuber fennel is only slightly contaminated with pesticides overall. For example, the Oldenburg Food Institute of the Lower Saxony State Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Laves) examined a total of 19 fennel samples from Italy, Spain, and Germany in 2011 and found that half of the samples from conventional cultivation and all organic samples were completely residue-free. If you want to be on the safe side, you should therefore opt for organic fennel.

If you want to grow your own fennel, you should consider that you are dealing with a southerner who is very sensitive to frost and cold as well as to heavy, wet, and compacted soil. Temperatures between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius are considered optimal, while temperatures below 7 degrees inhibit growth. In the Central European climate, planting is possible from mid-March to early August.

The bulbous fennel is one of the so-called long-day plants, which tend to shoot when the days get longer in spring. This means that the plant forms an inflorescence that is more than 1.5 meters high and the tuber withers and thus becomes inedible. For this reason, fennel is traditionally grown in Italy as an autumn and winter crop from October to May. In unfavorable climates, bolt-resistant varieties (e.g. Fino) should be used, which can be brought forward from March.

So that the tubers are particularly tender and snow-white, they must be covered with earth no later than two weeks before harvest, as is done with white asparagus.

The history of the fennel

Whether Tiberio, Pompeo, Tiziano, or Leonardo: Whoever hears these names immediately thinks of the famous generals of the Roman Empire and the brilliant painters of the Renaissance. However, these are also varieties of fennel, which already indicates how much the Italians love their finocchio (fennel).

But unlike in Italy, where an average of more than 5 kg of fennel per capita is eaten every year, the healthy vegetable is not exactly one of the favorite dishes in Central and Northern Europe. Perhaps too many remember their childhood and the aniseed-like taste of the fennel tea that had to be drunk to relieve a stomach ache.

Perhaps this aversion is also due to the fact that in this country fennel is only associated with unattractive recipes, diet food, or rabbit food.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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