Spice Up Your Life
There are all kinds of ways that we can spice up our life. Some of it comes from tree bark, others come from various roots, beans, and other plant matter. Some of them even require a level of processing to make it edible. So, we are going to talk about a few herbs and spices that can upscale your nutritional and cooking needs. The final spice under review comes from the Mediterranian and all kinds of Italian and French Dishes. Let’s get ready for the most perplexing of plants, Fennel.
There is a perplexing nature to the fennel that is both mysterious and keeps you on your culinary toes. As a plant, they grow in bulbs like a celery stalk. In horticulture, it closely related to both the carrot and poisoned hemlock. Also, in the culinary world, the taste is sweet with a hint of licorice, which is partly why another name for it is Anais in parts of Europe.
These little factoids along with its history make it a fascinating herb to study and a future possibility in your next cooking venture. So, where in the Mediterranean did it come from? Why do people like it? What does it have to offer nutritionally speaking?
It was readily available in the wild in the Mediterranean Basin, during the Persian Empire. Its etymology initially started with the ancient Athenians, who named the plant after the location of the city they successfully defended against the invading Persian army, Marathon. They believed in fennel Greek and Roman warriors were documented as consuming fennel to make them strong. It was also thought to have the power to help people keep thin because of its appetite-suppressing nature.
Fennel is such a hallmark Greek culture, thanks to its appearance in several myths. For example, Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, concealed it in a stalk of fennel. Also, a stalk of fennel capped with an acorn served as the scepter for the god of wine and rebirth, Dionysus.
Its importance carried over to the Roman Empire as a possible cure for cataracts. Later, it made its way to the Anglo Saxons who believed fennel to be an essential healing herb in every garden.
This merged into the spiritual practices and superstition that regarded fennel as one of 9 herbs as part of a ritual to ward off evil spirits. Eventually, when England solidified itself as a nation, in the 1200s, fennel seed was again useful for appetite suppression. Specifically, to help people to get through fasting days. Later, they were commonly useful for church, during long services to keep stomachs from rumbling. The Puritans even carried the notion into the New World, calling them “meeting seeds”.
Fennel Cultivation and Cuisine
These days, fennel is more or less an herb with cultural ties to English, Italian, and other Mediterranean cuisine and culture. It is also a base ingredient for Absinthe, a high proof French alcohol, and Akvavit, it’s Swedish and German counterparts. It grows wild and domestically all over the world with an exception made for desert and tundra terrain.
The most interesting thing about Fennel is that it is one of the few plants where every part is edible. According to Wikipedia, “The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant are used in many of the culinary traditions of the world.
- The small flowers of wild fennel (known as fennel “pollen” ) are the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive.
- Dried fennel fruit is an aromatic, anise-flavored spice, brown or green in color when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the fruit ages. For cooking, green fruits are optimal.
- The leaves are delicately flavored and similar in shape to those of dill.
- The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.
- Young tender leaves are used for garnishes, as a salad, or to add flavor to salads. As well as flavoring sauces, puddings, soups, and fish sauce.”
So, all an aspiring or experimental cook needs to do is pick out which part of the Fennel is applicable and use what they have. And why not, part of the fun of cooking is experimentation, right?
Fennel has a huge advantage of having a good amount of antioxidants, vitamin C, and other healthy nutrients. It is also a good source of fiber, that is great for your colon and is filling in that regard. So, maybe there is something to the whole appetite suppressant thing.