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Foeniculum vulgare var azoricum

Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand


Fennel is one of those vegetables that many people have never tried, but it’s well worth finding some and giving it a go. It has a sweet, distinctive, aniseed flavour and looks something like a small bulbous celery (and when fully cooked tastes similar), with soft, feathery foliage.

It is extremely common in Italy, where it is cooked in a huge variety of ways.

Fennel is high in vitamin C and fibre, and is a good source of a variety of trace minerals, such as calcium and iron.

You’re less likely to find fennel in your supermarket than at a greengrocer’s or farmers’ market, but when you get your hands on some, choose bulbs that are clean, tightly packed, and firm, with no sign of splitting or wilting. The bulb should be white and the stalk and leaves (if attached) bright green. Store in the fridge, but try and eat it as soon as possible after purchase as it does lose some flavour.



Fennel is generally believed to be native to the Mediterranean but is well established in a number of places, to the point of being considered an invasive weed in Australia and Canada.

Fennel was an important part of life for ancient Greeks and Romans, who used it for medicinal purposes, including the prevention of obesity. In Greek mythology, Prometheus used a stick of fennel to steal fire from Zeus, which he gave back to humans.

Fennel, along with anise and wormwood, was one of the herbs used to make absinthe, a highly alcoholic spirit that was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.


When you buy fennel, unless the bulbs are very young, take off the first layer as this is likely to be tough. Don’t throw it out though – any parts you don’t use, whether bulb or leaves, are great to include in your next vegetable stock. Fennel leaves can also be used as a herb or garnish, similar to dill.

The ways in which fennel can be cooked are limited only by your imagination. Simple is often best – try sautéing in olive oil and seasoning, and serve on toasted ciabatta as a bruschetta, or braise it in stock for a glorious accompaniment to seafood.

Or it’s excellent roasted – quarter your fennel bulbs, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and seasoning, and roast for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

You can also have it raw in salads – team it with other crunchy, flavoursome ingredients such as apple and celery.


Fennel has properties that help to combat flatulence. For that reason, fennel tea can help adults with bloating, and fennel water can be mixed with sodium bicarbonate and syrup to make gripe water to ease flatulence in infants.

Garlic »« Cucumber: Telegraph


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