Native to southern Europe but naturalized in northern Europe, Australia, and of course North America, these white-bulbed, feathery fronds carry an interesting history and symbolism to their name. Here are 8 facts you might now know about fennel!
1. The original name of common fennel is Finocchio. Also known as Florence fennel, this swollen, bulb-like stem base is used as a vegetable and originated along the coasts of southern Europe.
2. Anise and Fennel are not the same thing! The vegetable form of fennel is often confused with, and sometimes called anise due to a similarity in flavour to true anise. Aniseed (Pimpinella animus) comes from a bush with no other culinary purposes but as an herb. Anethole is an aromatic compound that gives off the licorice flavour found in anise seed and star anise (which is also entirely different than anise seed!). Fennel seed comes from a bulb that can be eaten as a vegetable or used as an herb. The flavour of fennel seed is a little more delicate and a little woodier than the flavour of anise seed, which means that it works better supporting flavour to enhance other spices.
3. Fennel is a member of the carrot/parsley family.
4. Fennel can reach up to 6 ft in height! That is ornamental fennel of course. This is not the fennel you would be eating. Actually, the ideal size of a flavourful fennel is that of a baseball and the stalk is 2 feet at most.
5. It was used by ancient Egyptians as medicine. Ancient Greeks and Romans used fennel for medicine, food, and insect repellent. Fennel oil helps with nausea, vomiting, and seizures. It is known to be an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and to stimulate gastrointestinal motility.
6. In the Middle Ages, fennel was hung over doorways to ward off evil spirits.
7. The Greek name for fennel is marathon or marathos. This is the place of the famous battle of Marathon literally which means field of fennel. A fennel tea was believed to give courage to the warriors prior to battle. This came from Latin feniculum, the diminutive of fenum, meaning “hay”. Ancient Athenian Pheidippides (central figure in the first marathon ever) ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of victory of the battle of Marathon. With him, he carried a fennel stalk on his 150 mile trip.
8. Fennel just might be the origin to the Olympic torch tradition! The story goes that Zeus, who in accordance with the mythical stories, desires to destroy the human race to make a better species, had withdrawn the gift of fire from humans. However, Prometheus (sun of Titan and benefactor of mankind) in a "philanthropic fashion," stole the fire back from Mount Olympus, concealed in a hollow fennel stalk and was able to then bring the fire back to Earth. To this day, a fennel stalk is still used in the Greek islands for carrying light. According to some legends, he gained the fire by holding the rod close to the sun. Whether this is what started the torch lighting ceremony or not, fennel as a vessel for fire is a pretty cool fact!
It is incredible to see the rich history behind such a prevalent vegetable in our region. We hope that you enjoyed learning a little more about fennel and have a closer connection to help you enjoy the food you are eating even more so. Here are a few tips about cooking with fennel:
Fennel Seeds: They are baked into breads and biscuits, Italian sausages, sauerkraut, tea, and much more.
Stems: Are delicious grilled with fish, meats, vegetables, tea, and also add crunch to salads.
Fronds: Can be added to salads, pickles, olives, fish, and used as garnish.
Bulb: Lovely eaten raw or cooked. It's tasty roasted with oil and salt, sliced thinly and added to salads, or in our Pan-cooked Sausage, Grapes, and Fennel main.