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Fennel seed nutrition facts

Sweet, anise-flavored fennel seed together with thyme, nettle, mugwort, etc., has been revered as one of nine Anglo-Saxon sacred herbs for its conventional health benefits. The spice is one of the most sought-after ingredients in many popular cuisines all over the Mediterranean regions.

Fennel is a perennial herb belonging to the parsley (Umbelliferae) family; a broad family of herbs and spices which also includes some of other common members such as caraway, dill, anise, cumin…etc. Scientific name of fennel is Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce.



fennel-seeds-saunf
fennel plant
Close up view of fennel (F. vulgare) seeds.
Note for light green color fennel, resembling anise seeds.
Fennel plant with golden-yellow flowers in umbels.
Photo courtesy: fcw


Fennel is native to Southern Europe and grown extensively all over Europe, Middle-East, China, India, and Turkey. This herbaceous plant reaches up to 2 meters (about 6 feet) in height with deep green feathery (lacy) leaves and bears golden-yellow flowers in umbels. In general, fennel seeds are harvested when their seed heads turn light-brown. The seeds, which closely resemble that of anise seeds in appearance, feature oblong or curved (comma) shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown-color with fine vertical stripes over their surface.

In general, fennels are harvested during early hours of the day to avoid loss of seeds in the field. As in caraway, its stems are staked until they were dry and then threshed, processed and dispatch to the markets.

Fennel bulb (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), used as a vegetable, is closely related to seeding fennel. It has grown for its anise flavored sweet taste fronds in many parts of Mediterranean region.


Health benefits of fennel seeds

  • Fennel symbolizes longevity, courage, and strength. In addition to its use as medicinal values, fennel has many health benefiting nutrients, essential compounds, anti-oxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

  • Fennel seeds indeed contain numerous flavonoid anti-oxidants like kaempferol and quercetin. These compounds function as powerful anti-oxidants by removing harmful free radicals from the body thus offer protection from cancers, infection, aging and degenerative neurological diseases.

  • Like in caraway, fennel seeds too are rich source of dietary fiber. 100 g seeds provide 39.8 g of fiber. Much of this roughage is metabolically inert insoluble fiber, which helps increase bulk of the food by absorbing water throughout the digestive system and easing constipation prolems.

  • In addition, dietary fibers bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in colon. It thus helps lower serum LDL cholesterol levels. Together with flavonoid anti-oxidants, fiber composition of fennel helps protect the colon mucusa from cancers.

  • Fennel seeds compose of health benefiting volatile essential oil compounds such as anethole, limonene, anisic aldehyde, pinene, myrcene, fenchone, chavicol, and cineole. These active principles in the fennel are known to have antioxidant, digestive, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.

  • Fennel seeds are concentrated source of minerals like copper, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Zinc is a co-factor in many enzymes that regulate growth and development, sperm generation, digestion and nucleic acid synthesis. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the powerful anti-oxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.

  • Furthermore, fennel seeds indeed are the storehouse for many vital vitamins. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C as well as many B-complex vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and niacin particularly are concentrated in these seeds.



Selection and storage

Fennel seeds are available year around in the markets either in the form of seeds or in processed ground form. In the store, buy whole fennel seeds instead of powder since oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders.

Store dry fennel seeds as you do in case of other seeds like caraway, dill, etc. Place whole seeds in a clean air-seal container and store in cool, humid free and dark place. Ground and powdered fennel should be stored inside the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be used sooner since it loses flavor quickly due to evaporation of its essential oils.


Medicinal uses

  • Fennel has long been used as a remedy for flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicines.

  • Fennel seed decoction or added as spice in food has been found to increase breast milk secretion in nursing mothers.

  • Fennel water often is used in newborn babies to relieve colic pain and help aid digestion.

  • Fennel seed oil is used to relieve coughs, bronchitis and as massage oil to cure joint pains.


Culinary uses

saunf-fennel-seeds
Fennel seeds with sugar pellets used as chewing condiment after food.

Fennel seeds exude anise like sweet fruity-aroma when rubbed between fingers. Its herb parts, including tender growing tops, root-bulb, dried stalks, and seeds are used extensively in a wide variety of cuisines all over the world.

In order to keep their fragrance and flavor intact, fennel is generally ground just before preparing dishes or whole seeds are gently toasted under light-heat before using them in a recipe.


Here are some serving tips:

light rye sourdough bread flavored-fennel-seeds
Light rye sourdough bread with fennel, sesame, and poppy seeds.
Photo courtesy: matthewfugel
Flavorful fennel seeds are used as condiment in India and Pakistan.
  • Fennel seed is widely used as a savory spice. It is principally added in cooking as a condiment and flavoring base.

  • Its seeds are widely used in fish, cheese spreads, and vegetable dishes.

  • In India, its seeds are being used as part of curry powder (Bengali paanch pooran). In addition, sugarcoated fennel seeds (saunf) have been used as a condiment after food to improve digestion in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

  • As in caraway, fennel seeds are used to flavor breads, dough, cakes, biscuits, and cheese.


Safety profile

Fennel seed should be avoided in large doses. Compounds in fennel may be neuro-toxic in higher concentrations and may cause hallucinations and seizures. It may exacerbate estrogen receptor-linked cancer conditions like endometrial, breast, ovarian... etc., due to high concentration of estrogenic compounds in it. Pregnant women may be advised to avoid eating fennel in large amounts.

(Medical disclaimer: The information and reference guides on this website are intended solely for the general information for the reader. It is not to be used to diagnose health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications).



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Further reading:

1. Gernot-Katzer's spice pages. (Opens in new window)

2. USDA National Nutrient database.


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