Fennel is perhaps best known as a parsley-like plant, used for garnish or cooked in a similar way to vegetables. However it’s also great for its seeds.
Both French and Italian cuisine is known for using fennel seeds, and it’s also famous for being one of the more pungent spices in Chinese five-spice powder. It’s a mild and sweet flavor that lies close to licorice.
It isn’t always the easiest seed to get a hold of though, so here are four great fennel seed substitutes that will pull you through should you be short of options when cooking.
Choice #1: Anise Seeds
Anise seeds make for an ideal fennel seed substitute because it shares a really similar flavor profile. This is actually surprising because both anise seed and fennel seed originate from two different plant families. However, their taste profiles are so similar that they are often mistaken for one another.
One important thing to note though is that while their flavor profiles are almost identical, anise seeds are actually slightly smaller yet pack in a more pungent taste. This means that you have to be careful not to use exactly the same weight of anise seeds as you would fennel seeds, otherwise you will completely overpower your dish.
Anise seeds can also be used either whole or ground.
Runner Up: Liquorice root
Also with a very similar flavor profile is liquorice root. Just like anise and fennel seed, it can be used in savory and sweet dishes alike.
Why does this come second as a runner up then? Put simply: Its form. While anise and fennel seed are both in seed form, liquorice root often comes in either the form of woody roots or powder.
If you have it in root form, then you will have to steep it in hot water. This water is then used to flavor the dish. If you need it stronger, you will have to steep the root for longer.
However, if you’re using liquorice powder then be warned: It’s much stronger in flavor than fennel seed. As a result, be sure that for every teaspoon of fennel seed that a recipe requires, only use half a teaspoon of liquorice powder.
Third on the podium: Caraway Seeds
Your choice aren’t just limited to anise seed and liquorice though! Caraway seeds are quite similar in flavor profile to fennel seeds. However they do also contain a few other notes of flavor (particularly a nutty taste), and it also differs in its sweetness.
As a result, while it can make an ample replacement, it probably can’t be used in every recipe like-for-like. If a recipe calls for fennel seed then try to use your intuition. If a nutty taste profile is unlikely to go well, then steer clear of using caraway seeds.
It does however have a similar liquorice like taste to it, and it can still often be used interchangeably with fennel seeds. Rye bread recipes, for example, often say that you can use either caraway or fennel seeds.
An outside contender: Dill Seeds
Last on our list is a relative of fennel seeds that are an outside shout if you do not have any liquorice or caraway at hand.
Fennel seeds actually have a very similar taste to caraway seeds, and therefore can be used in a very similar way. However just like caraway seeds they do not pack in the same amount of flavor as fennel seeds.