Cooking can be stressful, especially when a recipe calls for an ingredient in your kitchen. Some spices, herbs, and ingredients are easy to replace. Others are much harder to replicate. Fennel is one ingredient whose substitutions change depending on what part of the plant you are using.
Quick Substitutions for Fennel Bulb include using an equal amount of celery, bok choy, or endive. These will mimic the same texture. If you are also going for flavor add one of the dried fennel substitutions. For dried fennel seeds substitute Anise Seeds, Caraway Seeds, Dill Seeds, Cumin Seeds, or Mustard Seeds. For Fennel Leaves, you can substitute Dill Leaves, Parsley Leaves, Celery Leaves, Cilantro Leaves, Coriander Leaves, Hierba Santa Leaves, Tarragon Leaves, and Thai Basil Leaves. In most cases, you will use equal amounts of the substituted ingredient.
Given all the options for substitutions knowing which is the best option is important. Choosing the right substitution depends on the recipe and desired taste and texture of the dish.
What is Fennel?
Fennel is a bulb vegetable with green stems and feathery leaves. It is similar in appearance to Bok Choy but has a very different flavor. Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region.
Like Celery all parts of the Fennel plant can be used in cooking. Fresh fennel stems and greens are popular additions to steamed or poached fish and poultry recipes. Chopped or sliced Fennel Bulb is a popular ingredient in stews, soups, salads, and many other dishes.
What Does Fennel Taste Like?
Fennel has a mild, slightly licorice taste. Some Fennel bulbs have a stronger licorice taste than other fennel bulbs. When cooked, fennel loses a bit of the licorice flavor, becoming even milder and sweeter—often described as “Anise” flavored Fennel is much milder than anise.
This Anise or licorice flavor is the hardest part of the flavor to replicate when cooking with fresh Fennel. Luckily, there are options to duplicate the texture, which can be mixed with options to duplicate the flavor.
Substitutions for Fennel Bulb
When substituting for fresh fennel (also known as Fennel Bulb) there are two steps. The first step is picking a vegetable to substitute for the texture of Fennel. Second, if you are also looking for fennel flavor, use one of the dried fennel seed substitutions for flavor.
Celery has a nice crunch to it. Similar to the crunch in fennel. Use equal amounts of celery for Fennel Bulb. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of fennel bulb use 1 cup of celery. To create the Fennel flavor, add ¼ tsp of fennel or anise seeds. You can also add 1 tsp of anise liqueur.
Bok choy cooks quicker than fennel, so be sure to add it a little later in a recipe. It has a mild crunch to it. Use equal amounts of Bok Choy for Fennel Bulb. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of fennel bulb use 1 cup of Bok Choy. To create the Fennel flavor add ¼ tsp of fennel or anise seeds. You can also add 1 tsp of anise liqueur.
Belgian Endive has a crisp texture similar to fennel. Use equal amounts of Endive for Fennel Bulb. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of fennel bulb use 1 cup of Endive. To create the Fennel flavor, add ¼ tsp of fennel or anise seeds. You can also add 1 tsp of anise liqueur.
Substitutions for Fennel Leaves
When substituting leaves of another plant for fennel it is important to consider the flavor. If you like the flavor of the leaves being used that may make those leaves the best substitute for your recipe. It is also important to consider the recipe itself. Lastly, consider what you have on hand or what is available in a local store.
Dill has a stronger and grassier flavor than fennel. Dill is a popular addition to fish dishes. This makes it the ideal replacement for Fennel in a Fish recipe. If you want a more fennel flavor, a pinch of fennel or anise seeds will do the job.
Parsley has a peppery and slightly earthy flavor. Parsley is a popular addition to poultry and other meat dishes. This makes it a good substitute for these dishes. For a more fennel flavor, add a pinch of fennel or anise seeds.
Celery leaves have a similar flavor profile to fennel. They have a mild anise flavor. This makes them the ideal replacement for fennel leaves.
Cilantro leaves have a fresh, citrusy flavor. This makes them a great addition to any recipes that taste good with lemon or lime. For a more fennel flavor add a pinch of fennel or anise seeds. Cilantro sometimes tastes soapy to people. If you dislike cilantro or are unsure of your guests’ preferences another substitute may be a better option. Cilantro is a delicate herb and needs to be saved and added at the end of the cooking process. If you add them too early, they will lose their flavor.
Also known as Yerba Santa and Hoja Santa is a common ingredient in Latin American dishes. Its taste is similar to anise and sassafras. Use an equal amount of Hierba Santa to replace fennel leaves. The flavor is similar to fennel so no additional flavor substitution is needed.
Tarragon leaves have a slight licorice flavor similar to that of fennel. This makes tarragon an ideal substitute for fennel leaves. It is often paired with poultry dishes. Tarragon leaves are often stronger in flavor than fennel. This means you should use less about ¾ of the original amount. This does depend on taste preference. If you love anise and licorice flavor you can do a full 1-to-1 substitution. If you are not a big fan then useless.
Thai Basil Leaves
Thai Basil has a slight licorice, anise, flavor. The leaves are quite sturdy and will survive cooking better than some of the alternatives. Since these leaves have a similar licorice flavor to fennel they make a simple substitute.
Substitutions for Dried Fennel Seeds
The seeds of the Fennel plant have a mild licorice flavor. The seeds are often used as a spice. In most recipes, they are tossed in whole. However, they are sometimes ground before being added to a dish.
Anise seeds have a licorice flavor They are the seeds of a plant in the parsley family. Anise seeds are slightly smaller than fennel seeds. Use an equivalent amount of anise seeds to replace fennel seeds.
Caraway seeds have a mild licorice flavor which makes them a good replacement for dried fennel seed. Caraway seeds are less sweet than fennel seeds. Use an equivalent amount of caraway seeds to replace fennel seeds.
Dill seeds are similar in flavor to caraway seeds. They have a mild anise flavor. They are a great substitution for those who want a hint of the flavor of licorice but are not a big fan. Use an equivalent amount of dill seeds to replace fennel seeds.
Cumin has an earthy flavor that is both sweet and bitter. While different in flavor to fennel seeds it makes a good replacement as its flavor is so versatile. This makes them a good substitute for those who do not like anise or licorice flavor. Use an equivalent amount of cumin seeds to replace fennel seeds.
Yellow Mustard Seeds are the best mustard seed substitution. They are mildly spicy and a little sweet. They do not have any of the anise or licorice flavor. This makes them a good substitute for those who do not like anise or licorice flavor. Use an equivalent amount of yellow mustard seeds to replace fennel seeds.
Spice Blend Substitutions for Dried Fennel Seeds
While using seeds or hers that most directly replace the flavor of fennel seeds is always best, if all else fails, there are a few Spice Blends that make good substitutions.
Herbes de Provence Blend: Herbes de Provence is a spice blend that includes thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, savory, marjoram, oregano, and bay leaf. The tarragon in Herbes de Provence is what gives it the flavor it needs to replace fennel. It is a good substitute for poultry and red meats.
Mediterranean Herb Blend: Mediterranean Herb Blends usually have oregano leaf, garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds, and thyme. The use of fennel seeds makes this blend a great substitute for a lack of fennel seeds. Some blends use anise instead of fennel seeds. Given their similar taste, this works well.
Chinese Five Spice Blend: Chinese Five Spice Blends usually contain anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger. These ingredients make this an ideal substitution for fennel seeds in dishes that are both sweet and spicy. The strong flavor goes particularly well with red meats.
As you can see, there are many substitutions for fennel. This list will help you make the best decision for you and your recipe. Whether replacing the flavor of fennel with a similar flavor, such as anise, or replacing it altogether, you now have the key to making a superb dish.