Substitute for Fennel: 12 Easy Alternatives for Sweet and Savory Dishes
Fennel is a versatile ingredient for sweet and savory dishes. But it’s not always easy to find and can be expensive. So many people prefer a substitute for fennel with the same flavor profile. Here are our top choices.
Fennel is an integral ingredient to have in your pantry for many cuisines. Its seeds are used in Italian sausages, middle-Eastern dishes, and Chinese five-spice powder.
You can also include fennel in soups, fish recipes, and salad dishes, giving them a distinct flavor.
But like any other ingredient, you may run out of it. When that happens, you have to make do with the closest thing you have.
If you ever find yourself in such a situation, check out our top picks when it comes to the best substitute for fennel.
What is Fennel?
Fennel belongs to the Apiaceae family. Native to the Mediterranean shores, it’s a herb with yellow flowers and unique feathery leaves.
It has a unique aromatic flavor that pairs well with various cuisines. The bulb and stork work well as vegetables, while the seeds are used as herbs.
Since fennel is pretty aromatic, some people usually don’t like the flavor or aroma. It would help to have a suitable alternative in such a case.
Another reason why you may need to use a fennel substitute is that the herb may not always be readily available for you.
Fennel is popular in many Mediterranean cuisines. You can add the bulbs and fronds raw or cooked to salads, side dishes, vegetable dishes, pasta, and more.
The seeds are common in Italian delicacies, which you can use to make meatballs and Italian sausages.
Fennel is also used in Indian delicacies and Northern Europe rye bread. Besides being an essential ingredient in different cuisines, fennel seeds pack a ton of medicinal benefits.
The pollen is the most potent form and is very expensive. Dried fennel seeds have a strong aromatic flavor and are used to make spices.
The Best Substitute for Fennel: Our Top Picks
If your dish calls for fennel only to realize that you don’t have any, the following substitutes will do in a pitch:
1. Fennel Seeds
Fresh fennel has a distinct flavor that comes out in your dish. However, fennel seeds can still impact the delicate licorice flavor you want when you don’t have the herb.
The fennel flowers contain the seeds that are harvested and then dried; they are light green or tan and closely resemble cumin and caraway seeds.
The flavor of fennel seeds is sweet and licorice-like, just like a fresh fennel bulb. It’s possible to buy whole or ground fennel seeds.
You can use fennel seeds in savory soups or pan-fried fish to add an earthy flavor or season dressings.
To substitute fennel with fennel seeds, use a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a pound of celery for every pound of fennel bulb.
Fresh celery adds a distinct crunch to a dish, making it an excellent substitute for fennel.
While it doesn’t have the licorice-like flavor of fennel, the texture is similar –fantastic forstir-fries and salads.
When using celery instead of fennel, stick to the 1:1 ratio.
You can also dice celery and add it to sandwiches like tuna salad, egg salads, and stuffing recipes.
If fresh fennel is not available, onions will do. They don’t have the same flavor, but the texture is similar when chopped or sliced.
Onions are excellent for dishes when you don’t have to cook them. To bring out the flavor of the meal, go for red or Vidalia sweet onions; these have a milder flavor and a unique sweetness that doesn’t compare to yellow onions.
Cooked onions have the same mellow flavor as cooked fennel, but they enhance the overall flavor of your meal.
When using onions as a fennel substitution, go for the 1:1 ratio.
The licorice flavor of fennel is present in the seeds, bulbs, and feathery fronds. As such, the fronds are often used in dressings and fresh salads.
But when you don’t have fennel, you can turn to other herbs like tarragon. It pairs well with meat and fish dishes, thanks to the licorice flavor that resembles fennel.
However, tarragon adds more than just flavor to help balance the sweetness – mint, eucalyptus, and vanilla. Since most of them get lost after drying the herb, it’s best to stick to fresh tarragon.
When using tarragon in place of fennel fronds, apply the 1:1 ratio.
5. Belgian Endive
Belgian endive has a different flavor from fennel but works as a decent substitute.
It has pale leaves that grow in a tight cylinder, which are crisp and have a similar crunch to fresh fennel.
However, the flavor is somewhat bitter – ideal for balancing sweet and savory dishes.
Belgian endive is a versatile veggie you can use raw, roasted, grilled, or braised. Since it doesn’t have fennel’s licorice flavor, you combine it with ingredients like tarragon and fennel seeds.
For every cup of fennel, use half a cup of endive with a 1/4 teaspoon of tarragon or crushed fennel seeds.
6. Hoja Santa Leaves
Hoja Santa leaves are native to South America and great fennel substitutes.
The leaves are sold under different names like yerba santa, Mexican pepper leaf, or root beer plant. Theybelong to the peppercorn family and have a somewhat peppery flavor.
The intriguing flavor has notes of mint, eucalyptus, and sassafras. To fully experience its flavor, use fresh Hoja Santa leaves since it gets lost when dried.
When using it as a substitute for fennel, go for the 1:1 ratio.
7. Bok Choy
Bok choy has the same shape and size as celery heads but larger, greener leaves and white ribs.
Its texture is firm and crunch like fresh fennel. But since it belongs to the cabbage family, bok choy doesn’t have a licorice flavor; it’s somewhat bitter and earthy.
The green parts have a similar flavor to mustard greens. On the other hand, baby bok choy is slightly sweeter. You can use it in fresh dishes, roasts, braises, and stir-fries.
When using it as a substitute for fennel, stick to the 1:1 ratio. Plus, a tablespoon of fennel seeds will give your recipe that licorice flavor.
Anise has fennel’s licorice flavor, whether you use star anise or anise seeds.
Anise seed belongs to the fennel family, while star anise is seeds that grow in star-shaped ponds (native to Asia). Both contain a compound known as anethole, which gives them the licorice flavor.
When used in a dish, anise only replaces the fennel flavor. To also recreate the texture of fresh fennel, you have to pair it with a vegetable.
Start with half the ingredient amount like bok choy or celery, and add a quarter teaspoon of ground anise; add more if you want to enhance the flavor.
Leeks make great fennel substitutes in baked delicacies like casseroles and soups. This vegetable belongs to the scallion and onion family, but its flavor is milder than onions.
Leeks don’t have fennel’s licorice flavor when chopped or sliced, but they have a nice crunch and pleasant taste. They are also delicious when added to braised and baked recipes.
To replace fennel with leek, use a large leek in place of a fennel bulb or half a cup of chopped fennel.
Leeks also pair well with licorice-scented herbs like tarragon. Adding a few tarragon leaves helps replicate the flavor and texture of fennel.
Parsley is another fantastic substitute for fennel. It has a unique flavor, so make sure to finely chop it before adding it to dishes.
When using parsley on salads, chop it coarsely to bring out that intense flavor.
To bring out fennel’s flavor, combine parsley with herbs with a similar licorice flavor, such as tarragon and fennel seeds.
11. Artichoke Hearts
Artichoke hearts are the ideal replacement for fennel when you want to add a subtle lemony flavor to your dishes.
What’s more, they are incredibly versatile since you can bake, boil, grill, or braise artichoke hearts.
But steaming is the best way to enjoy them in cooked dishes and salads.
You can use dill instead of fennel (or vice versa) because the two have similar leaves and aroma. However, dill has a milder flavor.
Be sure to add dill to dishes that focus on the aroma. It works well with eggs, carrots, or seafood.
Plus, you should stick to the 1:1 ratio when using dill as a substitute for fennel.
What about a Substitute for Fennel Seed?
You can use every part of the fennel, including the bulb, seeds, stalk, and leaves. When it comes to the seeds, you can primarily use them as herbs or spices.
If you’re looking for a substitute for fennel seed, use anise seeds, ill, caraway, or cumin.
Anise seeds are best used with fresh celery, although the flavor is not as sweet as fennel.
Discover more helpful information about fennel:
What is the best funnel substitute in soups?
Use spices like parsley or celery seed.
What can I use as a fennel substitute in curries?
Use cumin or celery seeds since their sweetness and aroma will come out well in a curry dish.
What can you substitute fennel with in lasagna?
Use dill seeds (same texture as fennel but no licorice flavor) or caraway seeds (same flavor as fennel).
Fennel has a distinct crunchy texture and licorice flavor that you would think is hard to replicate. However, you can use many other alternatives when you don’t have fennel in your pantry.
Whether you are making a salad, stir fry, soup, curry, or fish dishes, you don’t have to abandon your recipe just because you don’t have one ingredient.
Instead, you can use fennel seeds, celery, onions, tarragon, Belgian endive, Hoja Santa leaves, bok choy, anise, leeks, parsley, artichoke hearts, or dill.
What’s your favorite substitute for fennel? Do you have other suggestions that we haven’t covered already? Let us know in the comments below!