The 11 Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds for Your Recipes
Fennel seeds come from the fennel herb, and are actually dried seeds that are commonly used as a spice. The drying process seems to elevate its flavors and aromas, giving rise to a warmth and sweetness.
As for the culinary applications, the possibilities of fennel seeds are endless. They are perfect in marinades for meat and fish, and in all vegetable dishes, but can also be used in sauces and baked goods, as cooking enhances their flavor.
Although fennel seeds have a very unique flavor and aroma, there are some alternatives that you can use as fennel seed substitute. Read on to find the best solution!
The Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are actually seeds of the fennel plant, which consists of a white bulb and green stems with deeply aromatic leaves. Fennel belongs to the carrot family and can be cooked or eaten raw, especially in Italian cooking.
Fennel seeds are collected from the fennel blossoms and then dried, turning their color pale green or sometimes tan. Taste-wise, it is quite similar to that of the real fennel plant.
The flavor could be described as a mix of sweet, earthy, and licorice. It’s strong, refreshing, but not too overwhelming. When it comes to fennel seed, it’s important to add a little at a time and layer the flavors instead of going overboard.
Being part of the parsley family, fennel seeds are often compared to or even confused with anise. However, while anise is cultivated only to harvest the seeds, fennel seeds have an edible bulb and aromatic leaves.
Regarding culinary uses, fennel seeds can be used like any other spice. They are ideal for pork and other types of meat, all types of seafood (both for marinades and dry dressings), and can even be used to create an aromatic crust.
Early in the drying process, fennel seeds are pale green in color. As they age, they often turn grayish, brown, or tan. Also, the older they are, the more intense their flavors. With maturity, both heat and licorice flavor increase.
However, the fullness of flavor is achieved when the dried fennel seeds are roasted. This brings out the earthy, nutty flavor, and allows for a good consistency if they are to be ground into a fine powder.
In addition to its culinary use, fennel seeds are often used for many gastric problems, including heartburn and bloating.
Whether you don’t like its strong flavor, or simply want to use something else in your dishes, there is always a fennel seed substitute you can trust.
Anise is so similar to fennel seed that many people even confuse the two, which means it is a great substitute for fennel seed. In addition to seed form, anise is also available in extract or oil form, which are much more concentrated.
Anise seeds are usually curved, small, and brown or gray in color. Although they do not have an edible bulb, both the stems and leaves of the anise plant can be used as herbs. Also, it is important to note that anise is not at all related to the spice star anise.
Like fennel seeds, anise seeds are also licorice flavored, but are also sweet, slightly earthy, highly aromatic, and can be a bit spicy as well.
2. Cumin seeds
Cumin seeds resemble fennel seeds, especially in color and shape. They are also oval seeds, brown or gray in color, and can be used both whole and in powdered cumin form.
However, when it comes to flavor, cumin seeds are more pungent, and can even be a bit spicy and peppery. However, they do have some sweetness to them, and their earthiness and warmth make them a great alternative to fennel seed.
Another similarity between the two types of seeds is that both are known to aid digestion. Cumin is commonly used in Indian recipes, and is the key spice in the traditional garam masala spice mix.
Caraway comes from the dried fruit of the caraway plant, so they are not actually seeds. However, people still refer to them as caraway seeds, mostly because of their appearance. These seeds are quite aromatic and a little goes a long way.
Taste-wise, it could be described as light aniseed with a hint of licorice. There is also a subtle hint of pepper, yet citrusy and refreshing, with an earthy aroma. As you can see, the flavor profile is quite deep and complex.
Caraway is a common spice in soups (particularly tomato-based), coleslaw, potato salad, sauces, savory and sweet pies, as well as pork dishes.
4. Licorice Root Powder
If you’re looking for a substitute for fennel seed for that distinctive licorice flavor, there’s no better choice than licorice root powder. It is a common flavoring agent, especially in confectionery, but it is also used in candies.
When it comes to flavor complexity, licorice root takes the cake, combining many flavors and aromas that are difficult to put into words. It is a mixture of sweetness, sourness, with a hint of pepper and earth.
Due to its unmatched versatility, licorice root powder can be used as a flavor enhancer in both sweet and savory dishes.
5. Fennel Seed Powder
Fennel seed powder is basically crushed fennel seed, but for some people it may be easier to determine the proper dosage with the powder. It’s also a better option if you want it to blend into the consistency of the dish without adding any texture.
In addition to being used as a spice in both your cooked and baked dishes, fennel seed powder can also be used in tinctures or added to herbal syrups. Taste-wise, the powder tends to be a bit more subtle than the actual seed.
Other than that, you can expect the same flavor profile, predominantly sweet, with a hint of licorice and earthiness. The only difference may be in the intensity, but you can always adjust the dosage accordingly.
6. French tarragon
French tarragon is also in the licorice flavor category, and can definitely substitute for fennel seed in all of your recipes if you like this type of flavor profile. In fact, they are so similar that you can use them interchangeably in a 1:1 ratio.
However, if you want an even more intense flavor, get fresh French tarragon, as it is much more aromatic and liqueur. On the other hand, if you prefer to use dried herbs, French tarragon is also available in a dried form.
French tarragon, in addition to providing that distinctive licorice flavor, is also slightly sweet, with a hint of eucalyptus aroma and a hint of peppery flavor. The French refer to it as the king of herbs thanks to its complexity and heady aroma.
7. Dill Seeds
Dill seeds come from the dill plant, which belongs to the carrot family. These flat, oval seeds are quite similar to caraway, and have similar culinary applications as well. This fennel seed substitute is often used in acidic foods, as well as cucumbers, carrots, and legumes.
Both the leaves and seeds of the dill plant are highly aromatic and are often used in salmon dishes, soups, and pickles. Keep in mind that fresh dill is much tastier, while the seeds are more on the subtle side and you may need to adjust the amount.
Dried dill seeds have a dominant herbaceous aroma and a unique pungency with a hint of sweetness and earthiness.
Available in both seed and powder form, mahlab is a common spice in Mediterranean cuisine. Although the seeds have a stronger flavor and more intense aroma, it is necessary to precook them before adding them to your dishes.
You may wonder why. Upon cooking, the mahlab seeds release their dominant bitterness, which could overpower all other flavor notes. By precooking them, you leave room for their earthy, nutty, and subtly sweet flavor.
Although mahlab is often added to sweet dishes for its fruity aroma, it is also a refreshing spice that can brighten up your sauces and soups.
Parsley is probably one of the most popular and widely used herbs in the world, and something that most of us use constantly in the kitchen, especially in soups, stews, and fish dishes. It’s a quick and convenient substitute for fennel seed if you’re in a hurry.
It’s available both fresh and dried, and while fresh parsley certainly provides more aroma and stronger flavor, for many people dried parsley is a more convenient option, especially when it comes to storage.
The parsley flavor is clean, slightly spicy, with a hint of licorice. It is highly aromatic, and adds an earthy, herbaceous touch to any dish. Due to its vibrant green color and interesting shape, parsley is also a popular choice for garnishes.
Celery is probably one of the most versatile vegetables out there, and not just because of its flavor profile. It is available in many forms, which contributes to its versatility and ease of use.
For a more subtle flavor and maximum convenience, you can use celery powder. Celery sticks are a popular choice for soups, broths, stews, and other plant-based dishes, while celery leaves have the strongest aroma.
The flavor of celery is layered and complex, being a mixture of strong and subtle flavors. It is herbaceous, slightly sweet, earthy and sometimes a bit spicy.
11. Anise liqueur
You may not be used to adding liquor to your dishes, but it can often make a big difference in aroma and flavor. In addition, they are very practical, since they do not require any preparation, and their flavors are already developed.
Anise liqueur is a French liqueur, infused with anise, that offers a low alcohol content with a rather sweet taste. The base of this liqueur is a mixture of seeds, added to neutral-flavored alcohol and mixed with simple syrup.
This type of anise-flavored liquid is a surprising substitute for fennel seed in sauces, soups, as well as sweet fillings and sauces.
How to Choose a Substitute for Fennel Seeds
When choosing a fennel seed substitute, the decision comes down to your personal preference and the recipe you’re following. Most of the options we’ve mentioned offer a similar flavor profile, so you can’t go wrong with any.
Aniseed, cumin seed, caraway, and dill seed are probably the closest alternatives, as they have that licorice flavor, earthy aroma, and similar look and texture.
On the other hand, licorice root powder, fennel seed powder, and French tarragon don’t offer a similar texture, but if you’re looking for a taste resemblance, you can’t go wrong with any of these spices.
The best options for your sweet dishes, especially in pastries and fillings, are mahlab and anise liqueur. Both are very aromatic and predominantly sweet, but you can also experiment with them when preparing savory dishes.
And finally, we have parsley and celery, the two staple foods of almost every kitchen in the world. They are herbaceous, aromatic and suitable for almost any savory dish you can think of.