Fennel is a plant that originates in the Mediterranean but it can now be found all over the world. It is a flowering plant that is in the carrot family.
Fennel is related to herbs such as dill, cumin, anise, and caraway. In terms of history, fennel has a long and storied history of magical., culinary, and even medicinal usage. In fact, Ancient Egyptians used fennel as both medicine and food. Also, in Ancient China, fennel was used frequently as a snake bite remedy. During the Middle Ages, people hung fennel over doorways because they believed the herb could drive away malicious and evil spirits. You may recognize fennel because of its association with the origins of the 26-mile marathon race. One ancient Athenian carried fennel on his run to Sparta.
All parts of the fennel plant can be eaten, and it is common to see recipes using the bulb base as a vegetable, the seed as a herb, and the feathery fronds in salads and as a garnish.
The flavor of it is very distinct. It is aromatic and recognizable, resembling anise and licorice.
Fennel, in all its forms, is a popular ingredient in the dishes of many cuisines. It is especially popular in cultures in India, the countries in the Middle East, China, and Iran.
The seeds often feature in spice mixes from these places such as panch phoron, and Chinese five spice powder.
It is sold widely here in the States alongside other herbs in spices in grocery stores in the form of dried seeds.
If you have ever come across a recipe with fennel seeds and have been put off because you don’t have any at home, then you may have just given up on the recipe altogether.
Maybe you’ve tried fennel before and are not keen on the taste, or perhaps you’ve made the rookie mistake of thinking you had some there, beginning the recipe, only to realize you are fresh out.
Whatever the situation, you are likely wondering what on earth you can use in place of fennel seeds, if anything, and whether that will work well in your recipe.
Well, the good news is, there are lots of different ingredients that you can use in place of fennel seeds in your recipe, some of them are super common ingredients that you are likely to have in your store cupboard anyway!
One of the best substitutes for fennel seeds is anise seeds.
Fennel tastes very similar to anise seeds because of the licorice taste they both share, this makes it a great replacement for fennel seeds if you are looking for something that tastes identical and enjoys the licorice taste.
Anise is a little smaller in size than fennel but is a little more pungent. It is often used in sweet recipes but can be used in savory too, in place of fennel. Use the same amount of anise as the recipe states for fennel.
Another great option for fennel seed replacements is dill seeds. If you have seen a fennel plant before you will know that the fronds on top look exactly like dill.
Dill seeds are also very similar to fennel seeds, although this is more in terms of flavor. They do not have the same sweetness as fennel but work really well when used in savory recipes.
They are not as intense as fennel so it may be a good idea to use slightly more than the measurements stated for fennel.
It has more of a tangy flavor that lends itself well to fish dishes and egg recipes. Bear in mind that the licorice or anise seed taste is much less pronounced.
Caraway seeds are a fantastic option when you are looking for a substitute for fennel seeds that will have a similar anise or licorice taste.
The licorice taste is more pronounced in caraway than fennel, and the taste is more bitter than sweet.
That being said, in small amounts, you can use it in savory recipes where you want to replicate the earthiness of the fennel whilst keeping that licorice undertone.
These seeds taste great in loaves of bread such as soda and rye bread, cabbage dishes, and in all meat dishes, you should use a little less caraway than you would fennel, adding more afterward if you feel you need it.
Cumin is a really popular spice that is commonly used in a variety of cuisines such as Mexican, South American, Indian and more.
Whilst they have slightly different flavors, they both have a distinct earthiness.
Cumin is a little more on the spicy side in comparison to fennel, which is the reason it is so often used in spice mixes and seasonings such as curry powder, fajita spices, chili powder, and taco seasoning.
You can buy cumin in a powder form as well as seeds, and depending on what your recipe is, either will work.
If you want the seeds to be visible like fennel, then you should use cumin seeds as opposed to the powder.
Use the same amount of cumin as you would fennel, but bear in mind that powdered cumin is likely to be more potent than cumin seeds.
Licorice root powder
The powder of the licorice root can also be used in place of fennel seeds if you want to replicate that same taste. You can buy licorice root powder from health stores and independent grocers.
Bear in mind that it is very potent and will be far sweeter than fennel. For this reason, we recommend that you only use it in sweet dishes such as cakes and pastries.
Use it in small amounts. You should also be aware of the health risks of licorice. It is known to affect blood pressure, and so if you have heart issues or blood pressure concerns then you should consult your doctor before consuming licorice, even in small amounts.
Fresh fennel and fennel fronds
What better substitute for fennel seeds than fennel itself?! You can thinly chop up some roasted fennel to use in your recipe to add depth, texture, and flavor.
Alternatively, use the fennel fronds in the same way as you would fresh herbs. The fronds resembled fresh dill and you can use it in the same way.
Fronds work best as a garnish in salads or stews. Chopped up fennel is a great choice in stews, too, as well as many other recipes.
Like fennel, and many of the other fennel replacements on our list, french tarragon (or simply tarragon) also has a very distinct licorice flavor.
People often recommend using fennel as a replacement for tarragon, and so you can use it vice versa, too. Use the same amount of french tarragon as fennel seeds.
This means if the recipe calls for one teaspoon of fennel seeds, you would use one teaspoon of tarragon.
You can either use dried french tarragon or fresh french tarragon that has been finely chopped. This works best for savory recipes, especially with white meat or fish.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I use in place of fennel seeds?
If you’re out of fennel seeds, you can try using anise seeds, caraway seeds, or dill seeds as a substitute. All these alternatives have a similar licorice-like flavor profile that can work well in dishes requiring fennel seeds. However, each substitute has its unique taste, so adjust the quantity according to your preferences.
Is anise seed a good substitute for fennel seed?
Yes, anise seeds are an excellent substitute for fennel seeds. Both have a sweet, licorice-like flavor, making them very similar in taste. However, anise seeds are more potent than fennel seeds, so use a slightly smaller amount when replacing fennel seeds in a recipe.
Can cumin be used as a replacement for fennel seeds?
Cumin can be used as a replacement for fennel seeds, but it has a more earthy and warm flavor than fennel seeds’ sweet, licorice notes. If you’re okay with a slightly different taste, you can substitute cumin for fennel seeds in equal quantities.
How does ground fennel compare to fennel seed?
Ground fennel has the same sweet, licorice taste as fennel seeds. The main difference is the texture – ground fennel is a fine powder while fennel seeds are whole or crushed. If you’re substituting ground fennel for fennel seeds, use about half the volume of ground fennel compared to seeds, as its flavor is more concentrated.
What is a fresh fennel alternative?
If you need an alternative for fresh fennel, you can use bok choy or celery. Both options have a crunch similar to fresh fennel, but they lack the distinctive licorice flavor. To compensate for the flavor difference, consider adding a sprinkle of fennel seeds or a pinch of ground fennel to the recipe.
Can fenugreek be used instead of fennel seeds?
While fenugreek and fennel seeds have a somewhat similar appearance, their flavor profiles are quite different. Fenugreek has a maple syrup-like sweetness with bitter undertones, unlike fennel seeds’ licorice flavor. It’s best to use fenugreek sparingly when substituting, as its taste can quickly overpower a dish.
The Best Fennel Seed Substitutes
- Dill seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Licorice root powder
- Fresh fennel and fennel fronds
- French tarragon
- Try our kitchen tested fennel seed substitutes.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.