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Fennel from A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know About Fennel

Fennel from A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know About Fennel

From Italy to Greece, from seeds to hearts: here are 26 interesting facts and figures you probably don't know about fennel.

By FDL on

Anethole. It's fennel's aroma, similar to anise and star anise, but, less pungent. Commonly used in alcohol, fennel is one of absinthe's three main ingredients.

Breastfeeding. Fennel is good for breastfeeding, it increases milk and gives it a sweet flavor. This happens because of the phytoestrogens in it, great for balancing female hormones, even during a menstrual period or menopause.

Cultivated. There are two varieties of fennel: grown and wild. The grown variety comes with an edible part called the heart, basically at the root of its leaves, sweet and less pungent compared to wild fennel.

Dante. Derogatory, traitor, infamous individual, someone of no value: fennel sometimes means all of these things in Italian, or rather ancient Italian. It is even documented on an apocryphal by Dante of the 400s: "E quei, ch’io non credeva esser finocchi, / ma veri amici, e prossimi, già sono / venuti contra me con lancie, e stocchi” ("Those I thought to be friends were fennels instead, they came at me with spears and swords" . Fennel has been associated with unpleasant characteristics because of its aroma and quality to alter taste.

Egypt. There was first word of fennel back in Egypt on a "Papiro Erbes" of 3500 years ago. It's written in hieratic, the cursive commonly used in Ancient Egypt, and holds many health related contents. 110 pages of 700 magic formulas and remedies.

Fire. Prometheus, the Greek God also friends with humans, asked Zeus to make men using mud and divine fire, he stole intelligence and memory from Athena's casket and gave them to men, he also gave them fire and the ability to use it by hiding a fennel plant in a firebrand he took from Olympus' eternal flame.

Gender. The distinction between male and female fennel is not a scientific fact, it only depends from its shape. The male is round and the female is long. People prefer the male because it has less fiber and is more substantial, good to eat raw, it is the result of the environment and land, the way it's sown and the agricultural technique. The female version should be cooked.

Homophobia. "Finocchio", fennel in Italian, is a derogatory term for homosexuals, the association goes back to medieval times. According to legend, when homosexuals were burned at the stake by the Holy Inquisition, fennel was used to hide the smell of burnt flesh.

Italy. Italy produces 85% of the world's fennel (“finocchio” in Italian). The region of Campania is at the top of the list, 22.000 hectars of cultivated land and 370.000 tons of fennel. Fennel is important in many Italian regions. Bulbs are exported to other European countries.

Juice. Its seeds are used in herbal teas, but the entire vegetable can be juiced for a healthy snack.

Kuala Lumpur. The Fennel Sentul East (, Malaysia's new towers look like the plant.

Low calories. Fennel is very low in calories - about 31 per hg - rich in fibers and no fat, it's ideal for dieting.

Marathon. Fennel goes way back in history. It all started in Marathon, Greece, where Athens and Persia had a battle. Fennel grew naturally and that's why Ancient civilizations called it marathon. It became the symbol of the first marathon when someone ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for help.

News. Fennel spreads very quickly and is considered a weed in the States and in Australia. In 2010, the Los Angeles Time wrote an article on fennel conquering the city.

Origins. Fennel is typical of the Mediterranean and its temperate climate. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it as an embellishment, to ornate their hair, their swords, horseback attire, it symbolized longevity and repelled spirits. Fennel as we know it, the cultivated version, is first talked about in Florentine books of the 15th century.

Pasta chî sardi. It's a famous Sicilian dish and wild fennel is a crucial ingredient. It's a pasta - bucatini to be precise - with sardines, a meagre fish you catch between March and September, same time you pick wild fennels. Other ingredients are anchovies, grapes, pine nuts and saffron. It's one of Italy's traditional products recognized by the Department of Agriculture.

Quality. Fennel is a great product thanks to its nutrients, minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, vitamins A, B and C. It's a good digestive and carminative (contrasts fermentation in the intestines) , diuretic and detoxifying (helps the hepatic functions) and antispasmodic.

Roasted. Toasted fennel seeds are consumed with other seeds in India and Pakistan as “mukhwas”, a colorful digestive, it also helps keep the breath fresh.

Seeds. Fennel's seeds are actually its fruits. They keep all of nature's knowledge, they are good for the body, healthy and curative. They are important in nutrition thanks also to their aroma.

Theft. After stealing seven fennels from a garden, the equivalent of a few euros, three guys might end up in jail for six years. In Alcamo, Italy, the judge committed the three Moroccans for trial. The episode happened on February 19th, 2013.

Uniqueness. Even if it's two different plants, in India and Pakistan, seeds of anise and fennel are used a great deal in the kitchen, sometimes with no distinction. The word saunf is used for both, you can also use the words patli (thin) and overlayati (foreign), overlayati being fennel.

Varieties. Commercially speaking there are three kinds: the sativum, cultivated for its seeds, very aromatic and used in condiments or to distill; the dulce, for its bulbs and itìs also the most commercial one (a famous Florentine variety is part of this category); and the piperitum, cultivated for its inflorescence, used in condiments or to conserve.

Wild fennel. The wild kind, umbellifer, is highly aromatic. It's used in making bread and focaccia, you can pick its seeds, leaves and flowers to aromatize fish, to conserve olives, for salami and sausages, or in baking. It has curative properties, cosmetic ones, you can mix it with clay and make toothpaste.

Xiaohuixian. It's Chinese for fennel, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, the famous Five Spices mixture. Some seeds also make the Panch Phorom ( “five spices”): fennel, fenugreek, nigella, cumin and black mustard. It's different from the Chinese mix (a powder), the latter Indian blend doesn't crush the seeds.

Yellow. The little flowers of the wild fennel, the trunk is 2 meters high, are yellow and shaped like umbrellas; you can pick them when they bloom and use them in essential oils, fresh or dry.

Zero taste. Fennel's aromas can play tricks on your tastebuds. In certain wineries they used to offer fennel before wine tastings, or cook old food in it, so people wouldn't taste how bad the wine was nor the food. Fennel makes everything taste good. In Italian they say "infinocchiare" when someone is duping you or is duped.

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