Fennel is a versatile ingredient you can use as a spice or vegetable!
We love how it’s a healthy and flavorful addition to numerous dishes, may it be in sauces, meats, or fish. It’s an ingredient we can’t leave out in most recipes that call for it.
That said, we know that we don’t always have certain ingredients in the kitchen right this moment, nor can some people find them in local stores. Not a problem, as fennel seed has various substitutes that give out nice flavors.
- What's Fennel Seed Exactly?
- What is a Good Substitute for Fennel Seeds?
- Frequently Asked Questions
But you can’t substitute just any spice for fennel seed; you need to know the ideal ones first. Read on as we show you the best fennel seed substitutes to nail your savory and sweet dishes!
What’s Fennel Seed Exactly?
Before delving into the best fennel seed substitutes, it’s essential to learn what this versatile ingredient really is!
You’ve probably heard people describing fennel as a spice, herb, or vegetable. It’s all three! (*)
Fennel is a Mediterranean herb that’s become even more popular in Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Italian cuisine. Today, you can find fennel seeds in recipes all over the world, thanks to their presence in cooking shows.
Fennel offers a unique flavor profile – a combination of anise and licorice aroma. Expect fennel to be fragrant with a deep, earthy tone and sweet, warm flavors.
However, fennel seeds aren’t as intense and pungent as anise, but sweeter! What fennel, anise, and licorice have in common is their composition, as they all have anethole, a chemical giving them the deep and complex aroma.
Fun fact: certain liqueurs, like absinthe and sambuca, are made of fennel seeds!
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves! We’ll discuss fennel seeds more in the following sections, but let’s first check out the best fennel seed substitutes below.
What is a Good Substitute for Fennel Seeds?
1. Dill Seeds
You probably know dill seeds in dill oil or tea. It’s also a favorite seasoning across the USA, with people eating pickles and chips containing dill seeds.
Flavor-wise, dill seeds are similar to caraway, with many uses. While dill has a tangy flavor, it isn’t as aromatic as fennel, and it would have a more subdued licorice flavor.
Even then, dill makes a good fennel seed substitute, especially in fish dishes like salmon. You can also use it in salad dressings and sauces.
2. Caraway Seeds
While we call them caraway seeds, caraway is considered a fruit, though a very small one looks similar to fennel seeds.
The significant difference is that caraway seeds have stronger licorice and a nutty flavor with a bitter aroma, lacking the sweetness fennel has.
Caraway seeds are a good substitute for fennel seeds when making rye or soda bread. Also, you can put caraway seeds in almost any type of roast, adding flavor and aroma to meats without being too overpowering. We highly recommend using caraway seeds as a fennel seed substitute in briskets or sausages.
3. Anise Seeds
Anise and fennel are similar in flavor to the point some people would mistake them for one another.
Both anise and fennel are pungent, through anise is stronger and appears thinner. Because of that, you can still use equal amounts of anise when using it as a fennel seed substitute.
Anise seeds can be used in meats, though since it tastes sweet, it’s better used for pastries and desserts as spice. Whether you use ground or whole anise seeds, both will have the licorice flavor of fennel seeds.
Plus, anise seeds offer nutritional benefits, containing microelements like calcium, copper, iron, potassium, zinc, and more.
4. Cumin Seeds
Cumin is one of the most popular spices worldwide, which is why it’s worth trying cumin seeds as a good fennel seed substitute! However, they do have their differences.
Cumin is a bit spicier with an earthy flavor, so you get a different flavor. Furthermore, cumin is used more as a garnish, adding texture to various cooked dishes. This is different than fennel, which you usually use during cooking to season food.
5. Licorice Root
Because fennel seeds have a slight licorice flavor, it comes as no surprise that licorice or licorice root powder is a great substitute.
That said, we don’t recommend using the spices in similar ways. Obviously, licorice has a stronger licorice taste and will taste very sweet as it contains high levels of glycyrrhizin, which is an active component much sweet than sugar!
Use half the amount the receipt calls for when using licorice root as a substitute for fennel seeds. You can also opt for licorice powder form!
We recommend using licorice powder over licorice root as it will take a bit more effort to prepare the raw root form. You’ll have to steep the roots in hot liquid, bringing out the flavor, then use the liquid on sweet and savory dishes.
Licorice is also one of the top spices to use because of its healthy combination of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Mahlab is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, which you can find in breads and cookies. Mahlab seeds have a sweet and sour taste with a subtle cherry aroma.
Admittedly, Mahlab isn’t one of the best substitutes for fennel, but if you have it in the pantry, it’s worth trying.
If you plan on using the seeds, cook them beforehand to eliminate the bitter aftertaste while releasing the rich and fruity flavor blending well in sweet dishes.
7. Fresh Fennel and Fennel Fronds
Obviously, one of the best substitutes for fennel seeds is fresh or raw fennel itself! Just chop roasted fennel in recipes when adding flavor, depth, and texture.
You can also use fresh fennel fronds as you would with fresh herbs. The fronds look like fresh dill so that you can use it the same way.
We recommend using the fronds as a garnish in stews or salads or the chopped-up fennel in stews or other recipes.
8. French Tarragon
French tarragon has a distinct licorice flavor, particularly the fresh version. That said, dried tarragon will work just as well, provided that you finely chop them.
With French tarragon, you get a lot of licorice and anise flavor. We highly recommend tarragon for savory recipes, mainly fish or meat dishes. (*)
9. Anisette Liqueur
Anisette liqueur is an anise seed-infused liquid with a sweet flavor and low alcohol content. It’s made of anise seeds, neutral-flavored alcohol, and syrup.
When diluted with water, this liqueur is an excellent substitute when cooking various dishes in need of liquid flavoring.
If you want a stronger licorice flavor in cooking meats, add it to the bottom of the dish instead of water, which brings out flavors without altering texture.
If you want to make a sauce that needs fennel seeds but doesn’t want the sandy texture, then anise-flavored liqueur is the way to go. You can simply pour it into sauces and creams.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve still got more tidbits to share about how to substitute fennel seeds! Keep on reading for our frequently asked questions.
1. What do fennel seeds taste like?
Compared to licorice root and anise seeds, fennel seeds have the upper hand. You can consume the entire fennel plant and receive an excellent flavor profile and complexity.
You can use fennel seeds to sprinkle on top of salads, in sauces, dressings, cream soup, fish, or in meaty stews and meat dishes, like sausages. Fennel seeds are also a great addition to baked goods like bread and biscuits or beverages like tea.
Fun fact: Fennel seeds add flavor to pickles and other vegetables, may it be asparagus, cucumbers, or tomatoes! You can also create fennel butter with it.
2. What are the medical benefits of fennel seeds?
Both the fennel plant’s fresh bulb and dried seed are nutritious. While low in calories, fennel is high in nutrients like vitamin C, iron, potassium, fiber, among other vital substances.
Furthermore, fennel has polyphenol antioxidants, so it also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Fennel seeds are best known for their contributions to digestive health! Fennel seeds are widely used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries for teas or even consumed on their own to improve appetite and digestion.
Fun fact: People eat fennel seeds alone after meals for fresh breath!
3. What herbs are similar to fennel?
Anise seeds are considered closest to fennel when it comes to appearance and flavor notes. There are many similarities between both herbs, even though their origins!
These herbs belong to the Apiaceae family and originated from the Mediterranean, having a licorice flavor. You can use fennel seeds and anise seeds interchangeably!
However, they are not the exact same, with anise tasting sweeter and stronger, whereas fennel has more subtle flavor notes.
4. Is fennel seed similar to fenugreek?
Fenugreek is technically a legume, unlike the fennel, considered an herb. That said, fenugreek has a similar fennel flavor, making it a suitable replacement.
Fennel seeds are sweeter than fenugreek though, so you may want to add less than what the recipe calls for.
5. Can I use ground fennel as a fennel seed substitute?
Yes, you can use ground fennel as a fennel seed substitute. The significant difference between both ground and regular fennel seeds is the process, as grinding seeds would bring out more natural flavor.
Because of that, a smaller amount of ground fennel can bring the same flavor fennel seeds can.
Wrapping It Up
We hope you found the best fennel seed substitute from our list! If you’ve got other suggestions to share with the community, let us know in the comments section below. Happy cooking!