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The Main Differences Between Anise & Fennel

Have you ever been in the spice section, smelled both anise and fennel and wondered, “what actually are the differences between these two plants?”

Because of their distinct, similar aromas that often remind people of black licorice, these two herbs are frequently mixed up with one another. 

However, there are key differences, differences that are important to be aware of when utilizing these plants in the kitchen. 

To learn more about the worlds of both anise and fennel, including what they taste like and the health benefits they both offer, make sure to keep reading. 

If you’re short on time, we’ve also outlined the main differences in the chart below. 

Anise & Fennel Comparison Table 

Anise Fennel 
TasteSweet, mild, and aromatic taste that is reminiscent of licoriceFennel contains a sweet, woody, licorice flavor that has hints of mint and honey
What It’s Used For Cooking as well as medicinal purposes (only the seeds are used but can be made into extract or oil)Can be used as a bulb, stalk or seed in cooking
Medicinal UsesSeeds and oil are used as a diuretic and expectorant and can aid in soothing stomach problemsHelps with digestion and contains anti-inflammatory properties
Chemical CompoundsAnethole is the main chemical compound in the aniseed (it is what gives the seed the licorice-like flavor)Anethole is the main chemical compound in fennel (it is what gives the seed the licorice-like flavor)
How It’s GrownAnise is grown as part of a perennial bush that flourishes when exposed to sun and well-draining soil.Fennel is an annual bulb vegetable that prospers in warmer climates (from June to October)
Where It’s CultivatedMediterranean, West Asia, Spain, Mexico, Egypt and the Middle EastSouthern Europe and areas along the Mediterranean Sea
Where To Find ItAnise can be found in the dried seed section of the grocery store (if not, you can also order it online)Fennel can be found in the dried spices section of the supermarket (you could also find it online)
Varieties Anise vs star anise: Anise seeds grow on woody and hard herbs that flower, whereas the anise stars derive from a small evergreen tree and belong to a completely separate plant familyYou can purchase both sweet and bitter fennel seeds, however, the latter is more reminiscent of celery seeds. 

Anise 

What Is Anise?

Anise, or what is more formally known as “pimpinella anisum,” is a type of spice plant with one of the oldest known origins. 

It can be found both ground and whole and is most predominantly cultivated in the Mediterranean, West Asia, Spain, Mexico, Egypt and the Middle East. However, for both medicinal and culinary purposes, the seed can also be purchased as an essential oil or extract.

In terms of appearance, anise seeds are small, slightly curved and possess a grayish-brown hue. They also contain stems and leaves that emit a lovely aroma, similar to that of licorice. Because of their flavor, these components are often used as herbs. 

It’s important not to confuse anise seeds with anise stars. Anise seeds grow on woody and hard herbs that flower, whereas the anise stars derive from a small evergreen tree and belong to a completely separate plant family. 

What Does Anise Taste Like?

The anise spice has a sweet, mild, and aromatic taste that is reminiscent of licorice. This aroma is produced by an organic compound called anethole, which is related to estragole and is used in the production of tarragon and basil. 

While this compound is highly soluble in alcohol, anethole is only slightly soluble in water. In consequence, anise-infused liqueurs become cloudy when water is added. As a result of this effect, you get the ouzo effect, named after a characteristic anise-flavored liqueur.

In addition to alcoholic beverages, the anise spice is also often used in dairy-based dishes and desserts. This is because of its sweet and warm flavor palette, that pairs wonderfully with other spices, such as cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. 

Health Benefits Of Anise

Anise not only tastes great, but it also contains numerous health benefits.

Some of these benefits include, reducing symptoms of depression, protecting against stomach ulcers, preventing the growth of fungi and bacteria, helping to relieve menopausal symptoms, balancing blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation and lastly, containing a variety of nutrients. 

One tablespoon (7 grams) of anise seed provides the following nutritional benefits: 

  • Calories: 23
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Iron: 13% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Manganese: 7% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 4% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 3% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 3% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 3% of the RDI
  • Copper: 3% of the RDI

RELATED: 10 Best Substitutes for Cloves

Cooking With Anise

Because of its lovely aroma, anise makes a delightful addition to numerous drinks and dishes including yogurt and fruit fillings (when it is in powder form). 

Baked goods, for example, are perfect for this spice. Whether it’s fillings for pies, or ground meat, the anise seed (whole or ground) will bring your dough to the next level. 

In addition to enhancing baked goods, anise extract can be used to flavor drinks such as coffee and hot chocolate. A licorice-flavored tea can also be made from the seeds.

Many alcoholic beverages, including anisette, ouzo, sambuca, and absinthe, also use aniseed as one of their main flavors. 

Lastly, the sweet aroma of anise, that is often compared to candy, frequently appears in post-dinner drinks, to provide the drinker with a warm and spicy dessert cocktail. 

How To Make Anise Extract

Whether you can’t find anise extract at your local grocery store, or you’re looking for a fun DIY project to spice up your kitchen, making your own anise extract is a great option. 

Making anise extract is super easy and only requires a couple of ingredients. 

It does, however, require several months to be complete, so make sure you plan ahead. 

Here’s How To Do It: 

  • Retrieve a 4-ounce jar.
  • Sterilize it by soaking it in boiling water for 10 minutes. 
  • Place 1 teaspoon of anise seeds into the jar. 
  • Add ½ cup of vodka to the seeds. 
  • Place the lid on the jar and ensure it is tightly sealed. 
  • Store the jar in a cool and dark environment for up to three months. 
  • After 3 months, using a cheesecloth, strain out the seeds, allowing the liquid to pour into another jar. 

Storage: store the extract in a cool and dark place for up to 5 years. 

  • This also applies to anise spice that is whole and ground. 

Recipes

There are numerous delightful and delicious recipes that utilize this spice.

  1. One such recipe is the Italian cookie, “biscotti.” Biscotti only requires a few simple ingredients, including just a touch of anise extract or oil. 

For full instructions, make sure to check out this article: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/17241/biscotti/ 

  1. Or perhaps you’re looking for something anise-inspired that will help you to relax and cool off after a long day. 

For that, there’s nothing better than a delicious and refreshing cocktail.  

This recipe uses cherries as its main flavor palette, along with cloves, lime, honey and of course anise seeds, to bring this irresistible drink to the next level.

What Are Good Substitutions For Anise?

If you don’t have any anise on hand, other good substitutions include, star anise (make sure you ground it before using it) and fennel seed. Both of these possess a licorice aroma similar to that of anise. 

In terms of the latter, we will now discuss everything you need to know about fennel and how it differs from anise. 

Fennel

What Is Fennel?

Fennel is a flowering plant native to southern Europe and areas along the Mediterranean Sea. It has a long season from June to October. 

It is a part of the carrot family and contains a sweet aroma, similar to that of anise. 

Fennel seeds are a spice taken from the fennel herb and tend to be either pale green or tan in color. In terms of its shape, fennel seeds are oval.  

The flavor, aroma, and potential health benefits of spices and herbs like fennel seeds make them especially popular.

Preparing recipes that utilize this ingredient will quickly reveal the power of fennel seeds. You can use them to pickle vegetables, season sausage, make crusts for fish or beef fillets, and more. 

Adding them to your weekly meal plan will also provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber (check out the section below to see exactly how it can improve your health). 

Fennel Seeds Nutrition 

Like anise, fennel seeds are also full of health benefits. 

For example, fennel seeds have been associated with fighting bad breath, improving digestion, helping to regulate blood pressure, reducing asthma, decreasing cancer risk, improving eyesight, reducing gas and promoting weight loss. 

Below you can find some of these nutritional facts (this is for one teaspoon (2 grams) of fennel seeds):

  • Calories: 7 kcal
  • Protein: 0.3 g
  • Fat: 0.3 g
  • Carbohydrate: 1 g
  • Fiber: 0.8 g
  • Potassium: 34 mg
  • Calcium: 24 mg
  • Iron: 0.37 mg
  • Magnesium: 7.7 mg
  • Manganese: 0.13 mg

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What Does Fennel Taste Like

Like anise, fennel contains a sweet, licorice flavor (think of black jellybeans) and because of this unique and rather pungent aroma, fennel is definitely an acquired taste. 

Depending on the method you implement when using fennel in cooking, may cause this licorice flavor to be enhanced. 

For example, when sauteed or diced in the presence of anions, fennel will become more sweet. 

Aside from licorice, fennel has also been described as containing notes of mint and honey. 

Cooking With Fennel

Fennel contains a distinct and sharp flavor profile that provides any dish with a unique and interesting twist. 

When it comes to cooking with fennel, this herb can be prepared in a variety of ways. 

Fennel typically pairs best with rich or fatty foods, such as pork and duck. 

However, fennel also pairs wonderfully with fish and shellfish. This is because its sharp, almost lemony flavor compliments fish splendidly and really helps to bring out their natural aromas. 

Savory dishes aren’t the only way you can go with fennel. 

Fennel can also be molded into a spectacular sweet-based dish. 

Roasting fennel stalks, for example, will cause this herb to take on a caramel-like sweetness that makes for a delicious afternoon snack. 

Recipes

  1. Diversify your diet and try the fabulous French dish that is known as bouillabaisse.

Bouillabaisse is a seafood soup that will warm up your day and give you your fix of fennel. 

This dish is both tasty and intricate and will be sure to impress the family.

Follow this link to see how to make it:

  1. Craving something a little more sweet? 

This apple cinnamon cake is just what you need and not only gives you a tasty treat that you won’t be able to get enough of, but the added fennel will also provide you with a number of health benefits. 

What Are Good Substitutions For Fennel?

If you don’t have any fennel on hand, other good substitutions include, anise spice or star anise (make sure you ground it before using it). Both of these possess a licorice aroma similar to that of fennel. 

However, if going with the anise option, make sure to put in less than what is called for with the fennel, as anise has a more pungent licorice flavor than fennel. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Anise And Fennel The Same Thing? 

Anise is not related to fennel and, although both species are parsleys, anise is a completely separate species from fennel. 

The main purpose of anise is to produce seeds, whereas fennel produces bulb, fronds, and seeds. The flavor of anise is also stronger, more intense and more licorice-like than that of fennel.

Where Can You Find Anise And Fennel Seeds? 

Both anise and fennel seeds can typically be found in the dried seed or spice section of supermarkets. 

If they are not available at your local grocery store, try purchasing them online. 

What Is The Difference Between Sweet And Bitter Fennel?

Sweet fennel seeds will give you that anise flavor that you typically associate with this herb (the woody and licorice-like flavor), whereas bitter fennel is often described as tasting like celery seeds. 

How Do You Store Fennel?

In the vegetable form, make sure to store fennel in the fridge (if it is cut up, place the pieces in an airtight container first). 

As a seed or spice, store fennel in a cool and dark environment. 

Jess Smith
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