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Fennel Seed Substitute


You’re in the middle of prepping your favorite Indian or Chinese dish and realize you’ve run out of fennel seeds. Below, you’ll find a list to pick the best fennel seed substitute so you can continue your recipe stress-free. What can you use that will provide a similar flavor?

tabletop with fresh fennel, jar with fennel seeds, wooden teaspoon filled with seeds

What Are Fennel Seeds?

Fennel seeds are seeds derived from the fennel plant. This flowering plant is relative to the carrot family and originally came from the Mediterranean area. You can identify these seeds by their appearance as they are long and striped with light green/ light brown and white. You can purchase fennel seeds as whole seeds or in powder form.

This seed has an interesting history that ranges in use as a medicinal tool to a magical one. Egyptians used fennel to season food and as medicine, while ancient Chinese societies used fennel seeds to aid in healing snake bite wounds.

Now, fennel seeds’ everyday uses include flavoring for dishes (sweet and savory), candy, and even as an aroma for candles and soap.

Fennel Seed Types

There are two types of fennel seeds available – sweet fennel and bitter fennel. Depending on what part of the world you are located in, you’ll be more accustomed to one variety over the other.

Sweet fennel seeds are available in the US, though they are often grown in Bulgaria, France, and Italy. Bitter fennel is grown in India, Argentina, Germany, and Japan.

If you’re creating Indian recipes, you’ll likely find the recipe asking for bitter fennel seeds. Each offers a different flavor described simply by its name. Expect bitter fennel to have a more bitter taste and sweet fennel to be sweeter tasting.

Fennel Seed Substitute List

Fresh Fennel

Fresh fennel is a good fennel seeds replacement in terms of flavor. You’ll notice a more subtle taste when using fresh fennel. However, the sweetness and licorice taste/ anise flavor is present when you use this swap in dishes.

You can choose which part of the fresh fennel plant you want to incorporate in your recipes. For example, use the fennel fronds as you would an herb – for flavoring or a garnish.

If you want to add bulk to a recipe, you can use the bulb section for soups and stews. It will also add flavor to your dishes. You’ll find fresh fennel to be easily accessible when in season. However, outside of fall time, you likely won’t be able to get ahold of it. In this case, it’s best to use another fennel seed alternative.

Pros

The flavor of fresh fennel matches that of fennel seeds, making it a suitable replacement flavor-wise. You can use fennel fronds for seasoning or fennel bases for stews and soups.

Cons

This substitute is challenging to find when not in season. It also has a much milder taste, so you need to use more fresh fennel to replace fennel seeds in dishes.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a 2:1 ratio of fresh fennel and adjust as needed.

Anise Seeds

Many people use anise seeds as a replacement for fennel seeds because of their similar taste. They both offer a licorice flavor. You can also use anise seeds in both sweet dishes and savory dishes. These seeds are found easily at your local store.

While their flavor is similar, they have a bolder taste, so you need to use a smaller quantity in recipes. You’ll also notice the appearance of both seeds is different – anise seeds are much smaller in size. This seed shares another similarity to fennel seeds; they are both related to the carrot family.

Pros

Anise seed is an excellent replacement because of its similar flavor. As you can use anise in both sweet and savory dishes, it has a good amount of versatility.

Cons

Those with a more delicate pallet may notice a difference in the flavor of dishes when using this swap.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ¾ of the amount requested in the recipe and adjust as needed.

Caraway Seeds

If you have caraway seeds on hand, you can use them as an alternative to fennel seeds. Like fennel seeds, they also produce a licorice flavor. However, the licorice flavor is much bolder. You’ll also notice that caraway does not offer the sweet taste that fennel does; instead, it has a bitter flavor.

Caraway seeds are best in savory dishes and do not work well as a replacement in sweets. Though, many companies use these seeds for adding flavor to multiple varieties of alcohol.

Surprisingly, these seeds are not seeds. Instead, they are tiny, dried fruits that many commonly refer to as seeds. You can utilize caraway in meat dishes, bread, and vegetable recipes like sauerkraut.

Pros

If your only concern is adding a licorice taste to dishes, caraway works as an excellent sub. They’re usually easy to find at the grocery store and taste delicious in savory dishes.

Cons

There will be a noticeable flavor difference when using caraway seeds instead of fennel seeds. Plus, if you use too much, the strong licorice taste and bitter flavor may overwhelm the other ingredients.

Cooking Tip:

Use ½ the amount that the recipe calls for and slowly add more if needed.

Cumin Seeds

Cumin seeds have an earthy, slightly bitter, spicy taste that adds flavor to dishes. While they lack the licorice taste that fennel seeds offer, cumin seeds do provide warmth to dishes. These seeds also are aromatic, and you can use them in savory dishes or to flavor alcoholic beverages.

Cumin has an interesting history as well. This spice has importance in the bible, Egyptians used it to aid in the mummification process, and it was thought to bring a happy marriage to couples. You can find this seasoning in both powder form and whole seeds.

Cumin seeds are versatile and work well with many different cuisines from Mexican to Indian and Asian. They have a spicier flavor than cumin seeds, so use a smaller amount unless you enjoy the additional heat. Use this swap when you want to add warmth to your recipe and don’t mind the difference in taste.

Pros

Cumin seeds are easy to find in the spice aisle. They add beautiful aromatics to dishes and work well with many cuisines.

Cons

The flavor is very different from fennel seeds and will be noticeable in dishes. If you use too much cumin powder or seeds, you may overwhelm the other flavors. Avoid this substitution when creating sweet recipes.

Cooking Tip:

Use ½ the amount required by the recipe to avoid a too strong taste.

Dill Seeds

Dill seeds have a similar taste to fennel seeds in both sweetness and licorice flavor. You will find that dill seeds have a much subtler licorice taste. This means that you’ll need to incorporate a larger quantity into your recipes to mimic the taste of fennel seeds better.

These seeds have a bitter taste, though, so you’ll want to avoid using too much when cooking. Choose dill seeds as an alternative in recipes that incorporate fish or egg. The other flavor notes do not pair well with all dishes that require fennel seeds.

Pros

Dill seeds offer a sweet and licorice-like taste that fennel seeds produce. They’re also easily accessible in grocery stores and markets. Use dill seeds with fish and egg-based recipes that are savory.

Cons

The additional flavor notes of dill seeds limit the number of recipes. You will also need to add more dill seeds to create a similar licorice flavor, making it easy to add too much for a bitter-tasting recipe.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a 1:1 ratio and slowly add more dill seed to taste.

Fresh Dill

Since dill seeds work as a substitute for fennel seeds, fresh dill can also work as a substitute. You’ll still have a licorice taste, and sweetness added when using fresh dill. Though, fresh dill offers an even milder taste; so the quantity will need to increase to accommodate the flavor difference.

Like with dill seeds, you should use fresh dill for fish dishes or recipes that use eggs. Avoid using dill for drink recipes or sweets. Fresh dill is easy to find in the grocery stores near the refrigerated vegetable section.

Pros

This herb is easy to find at your local store. It provides a sweet, licorice taste when you use it in recipes.

Cons

You cannot use fresh dill in sweet recipes or drinks. Using fresh dill as a sub is limited to fish and egg dishes. There will be a flavor difference as dill is also earthy and can have a sharp taste.

Cooking Tip:

Start with 1.25 times the amount required in the recipe and add more to reach your taste preference.

Onion

You can use an onion when you’re seeking a sweet taste in dishes. However, these fennel seed substitutes lack the licorice flavor that fennel seeds provide. Onions are very easy to find – most likely, you have one or a few in your kitchen ready for use. If not, any grocery store or farmers market will carry a variety of onions.

Onions are another food item with a long and interesting history. They also were used in the process of mummification – kings and pharaohs were buried with whole onions. Of course, there are also notes of onions being consumed and used for medicinal purposes. Like most food items, many use onions for flavoring foods.

With the vast array of onions available, you can choose the type of onion that best fits your recipe. For more spiciness, add in red onion. For a sweeter taste, opt for a yellow or white onion.

Pros

Onions work well with most recipes. You can choose which variety of onions to use to match the other recipe flavors better. They’re very easy to find in stores and add sweetness and flavor to dishes.

Cons

Onions don’t provide a licorice flavor to dishes. They also do not work well in drinks or sweets. With a milder flavor, you will need to add more to dishes.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a 1:1 ratio and adjust as needed.

Licorice Root Powder

In a pinch, you can use licorice root powder as a replacement. This powder has a very sweet taste and strong licorice flavor, so you will want to use it in small doses. Licorice root powder does not work well in savory dishes because of its level of sweetness.

You may also find licorice root powder difficult to find in grocery stores as it’s a less common flavoring agent. If you have some on hand and are creating a dessert, this is a great substitution.

Pros

Licorice root powder provides a licorice taste and sweetness to recipes. It works as an excellent swap in desserts.

Cons

The uses for licorice root powder are limited, and it is hard to find this spice. Use this sub only when you are creating sweets.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ¼ the amount the recipe requires, then add more slowly until desired taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Leave Fennel Out of a Recipe?

Yes, you can leave fennel out of a recipe if you do not have any on hand. However, your dish will lack the flavor that fennel and fennel seeds provide. Add one of the swaps above for some additional flavor.

Is Fennel the Same as Cumin?

No, fennel is not the same as cumin. These spices have very different flavor profiles and come from different plants. They do originate in the same plant family, though both seasonings offer a unique taste in recipes.

Can I Use Cumin Instead of Fennel?

Yes, you can use cumin instead of fennel. As noted above, this swap can work if you’re looking for an aromatic substitution or one that creates warmth in a dish. You will need to alter the quantity you use when cumin is subbed.

Is Fennel Like Onion?

In some ways, yes, fresh fennel is like an onion. They both offer a sweet flavor, and you can use them in similar recipes. The taste is not the same, though you can use them as substitutions for each other.

What Does Fennel Seeds Taste Like?

The most prominent flavor in fennel seeds is licorice. You’ll also find fennel seeds to be sweet and aromatic. Depending on the source, you may also hear these seeds described as having a “warm” taste.

What Herb Tastes Like Fennel?

The most similar tasting herb is anise. Beyond anise, licorice is the next closest herb substitute. Both are excellent choices and will provide a taste similar to that of fennel and fennel seeds.


Conclusion

When looking for a replacement for fennel seeds, opt for anise seeds or caraway seeds as your first option. These swaps provide the closest flavor in recipes and are pretty versatile in their uses. Plus, they offer the sought-after licorice taste. Use anise seeds and caraway seeds for both sweet and savory dishes.

Next time you’re creating a recipe and aren’t sure what to use instead of fennel seeds, give these replacements a try. You may even find a new favorite ingredient for your dishes!

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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