I admit that the licorice like flavor of Fennel seed is one that not everyone is as crazy about as I am. I once happily offered a handful of toasted fennel seed to my brother who after popping them in his mouth, wretched, sent me an accusing glance, and exclaimed “yuck, it tastes like licorice!”. Sorry, Nate, I managed to forget that is a bad thing for some people. So maybe eating them by the handful is a bit much for some. Not for me, I have a serious spice crush on fennel! To me, tomato sauce BEGS for a bit of that sweet, aromatic flavor.
Fennel seed is the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare, a perennial herb in the parsley family. The bulb of the plant, known simply as fennel, has a similar but milder flavor and is wonderfully crunchy much like celery. I love it roasted!
Aside from the flavor I love fennel for its medicinal properties. It is the ultimate digestive aid.
Fennel contains the volatile oil anethole which stimulates digestive juices, reduces inflammation of the stomach and intestines and helps nutrients to absorb. It also contains aspartic acid, which helps relieve gas.
Fennel is a galactagogue, which means it helps to promote lactation and increase milk supply. The stomach calming properties of fennel can transfer to the milk and help to calm the belly of a colicky infant.
Another interesting property of fennel that is a bit more fun is that due to high levels of phytoestrogens it is considered to be a female aphrodisiac. Adding a little Fennel seed (or cooking with the bulb- or both!) to your valentines day dinner just might boost your mood for love. At the very least it will be delicious and you won’t need to pop an antacid.