If you’re someone who loves the rich and full flavors of spices in both savory and sweet dishes, you’re probably no stranger to both fennel and anise. Fans of international cuisine will also be familiar with the warm, welcoming licorice-like flavor that both these plants and their products lend.
But are fennel and anise the same? Despite tasting somewhat similar and having comparable origins, these two sought-after flavorings have some key differences that set them apart.
Difference Between Fennel and Anise
The main difference between anise and fennel is mostly drawn from their unique flavors. While anise is sweeter and stronger, fennel has a milder taste with woodier and greener notes than its more aromatic counterpart.
Fennel vs Anise Comparison
Here’s how they compare:
- Flavor: Anise is heavier on the licorice flavor and far more pungent. Fennel has a far lighter taste that plays on the more herbaceous side of the traditional licorice taste.
- Form: Anise seeds come from the flowers of a bush grown specifically for its seed, whereas fennel seeds originate from bulb-forming plants, of which all the parts are eaten.
- Appearance: Anise seeds are small, hard, and crescent-shaped, and they can be anywhere from a light brown to a dull green color. Fennel seeds look similar but are smaller and oval-shaped with a dried texture and usually a pale green color.
- Shelf Life: Whole anise seeds will keep for three to four years if stored in a dark, cool place. Fennel seeds can last two to three years under similar conditions, and both seeds should be stored whole for the best-quality taste and shelf life.
- Uses: Anise seed is a traditional addition to savory and bread-based foods, such as pastries, and even liqueurs. Fennel is used in lots of world cuisines and as an addition to spice blends for soups, meat dishes, and even desserts. Both seeds have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.
- Origins: While fennel is traditionally native to southern Europe, anise comes from the Mediterranean and Egypt.
|Taste||Licorice-like with green, woody notes and a soft, subdued flavor that has a bright quality.||Licorice-like with warm, sweet, and spicy accords that are potent and pungent, and very fragrant.|
|Best Uses||Used as a crunchy bulb, herbaceous greens, or dried seeds. Seeds are added to spice mixtures and included in savory and meat-based dishes.||Used only for seeds, which are added primarily to bread and pastries but also dairy products and desserts.|
|Medicinal Uses||Seeds can aid in digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties||Seeds and oil are used as a diuretic and expectorant and can help soothe upset stomachs.|
|Main Chemical Compounds||Anethole is the main chemical compound in both fennel and aniseed that gives the licorice-like flavor. This compound is also responsible for some of the health benefits of both types of seeds and can also be found in peppermint and coriander.|
|How It’s Grown||Fennel is a mostly annual bulb vegetable that is sensitive to cold.||Anise comes from a perennial bush that prefers sun and well-draining soil.|
|Where It’s Grown||Originating in southern Europe, fennel is now grown all over the world but thrives in warmer climates, such as Egypt.||Anise is native to the Mediterranean region, but it’s grown in many moderate climates across the world.|
|Where to Get It||Both products can be found in dried seed form in local grocery stores or even ordered online. Just don’t mistake anise for star anise!|
|Different Varieties||Sweet fennel and bitter fennel: both are consumed as seeds, but bitter fennel is similar to celery seed.||Anise and star anise: though they have a similar taste, anise seed is spicy and much stronger. The two are from different plants altogether; star anise is actually a small tree fruit.|
Can I Use Fennel Instead of Anise?
Despite the many differences between these two different ingredients, many chefs use them interchangeably because they both impart a similar licorice-like flavor.
As we’ve mentioned, the subtleties of each different type of seed do shine through in certain dishes. Fennel is suited perfectly to heavier and savory dishes, while aniseed shines in desserts, bready dishes, and even added to dairy products.
So if possible, it’s a good idea to stick to the seed called for in the recipe you’re following. However, what do you do if you can’t get your hands on the ingredient you need?
The good news is that, just like many global chefs, you can substitute fennel for anise if you utilize the right substitution ratio. Since fennel provides a milder, lighter taste, you will need more of it to more accurately replicate a truer aniseed taste.
As a general rule, use half the amount in fennel seeds that is called for in aniseed in your recipe. Likewise, if you’re in a pinch and need to alternate aniseed for fennel seed, only use half the instructed amount.
If you’re looking to learn more about fennel substitution, we have a guide on the most appropriate fennel seed substitutes.
While fennel and anise make passable options for each other, one won’t always provide the best alternative for the other in every dish. If you need that distinctive licorice taste, then you are probably safe to exchange one for the other.
However, another great option is to use caraway seeds. In the same family as fennel, these seeds retain a licorice-like flavor with a black pepper quality that makes them a great one-to-one replacement for fennel.
For a sweet-centric dish that calls for aniseed, substituting star anise will give you a similar warm, sweet, spicy taste that is mildly softer. One of these star-shaped pods, also called a pericarp, is a great alternative for every half teaspoon of ground aniseed that your recipe calls for.
Fennel itself is a bulb-producing vegetable and is used from top to bottom in all sorts of dishes. Take special note when working with a recipe that calls for fennel; it may call for the roasted, starchy bulb or the feathery greens and not the more common dried seeds.
This is an herb that has been used since ancient times both for its delicious, aromatic taste and for all its medicinal properties. You’ll find it as a common ingredient in Chinese spice, Indian curry, and authentic Italian meatballs.
You can choose to follow in the footsteps of great international tastemakers and cook up your own world cuisine at home using fennel seeds. If you’re new to the ingredient, a great place to start is by adding them to homemade pizza or including them in sausage-prominent dishes.
If you’ve ever eaten at an Indian restaurant, you may have noticed a bowl of dried fennel seeds near the door. A spoonful of this ingredient chewed up after a meal not only helps to cleanse the palate and the breath, but these seeds also make a great post-meal digestive aid. What’s more, they taste great!
When incorporating fennel seed into dishes, use them whole if you want a stronger, more localized flavor. However, grinding the seeds into powder can give a more subtle and pervasive flavor to whole dishes and can also form the base of a tasty medicinal tea.
Aniseed grows on woody, hardy herbs that produce beautiful flowers that look similar to Queen Anne’s lace. Due to their similar names, it’s easy to confuse anise seed with star anise, which conversely grows on a small evergreen tree from an entirely different plant family.
The seeds of the anise herb, commonly recognized as a spice, are a favorite of many cultures, including Mexico, Germany, Italy, India, and those of the Middle East.
Because of its sweet, warm, spicy taste, aniseed is a welcome partner to other cozy flavors, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. It’s no surprise that you’ll find it in rich desserts and dairy-based foods and also in some alcoholic beverages.
Because the seeds are the only part of the anise plant that is used, you can obtain them in several different forms suited to your cooking needs.
Like fennel, aniseed is best when stored whole and unground, as this form preserves the flavors at a stronger level and for a longer time. When it’s finally time to use them in a dish, you can grind them into a powder for addition to fruit fillings, yogurt, or as a topping on a dessert.
Aniseed can also be made into an extract that is especially suited for use in drinks, as it can add an extra kick to hot chocolate, tea, or even a special cocktail.