Hello my dear readers,
We have seen what fennel is and we have discovered how to cultivate it. Today let’s see how to use it in our kitchens, and what are its properties, benefits and contraindications if any.
In today’s post we will discover:
- How fennel is?
- How to choose fennel?
- How to clean fennel?
- How fennel taste?
- Nutritional properties of fennel
- Fennel benefits
- Side effects and contraindications of fennel
How fennel is?
Sweet fennel has a round to oval shape, is made up of fleshy leaves that become very tender in the heart. The sprigs with the soft green leaves are cut over the white part.
How to choose and buy fennel
The main advice at the time of purchase is to choose smooth fennel and a beautiful bright white. The various sheaths that make up the fennel must be crisp and break under pressure, that is, without bending or being excessively soft.
They are kept whole in the refrigerator in the vegetable drawer for a long time; however, be careful to not let them wrinkle and consume them as soon as possible to taste them at their best.
How to clean fennel
To clean the fennel, remove the base with a sharp knife and remove any damaged external leaves. Then wash them in cold water and cut them in half, quarters or eighths or slice them thinly with the mandolin. The cooking times depend a lot on the cut and the chosen cooking method, it may take 10 to 25 minutes.
How fennel taste?
It is a vegetable with an unmistakable aroma, similar to anise. The most tender and crunchy part is eaten, cut thinly in a salad, but also in wedges as a snack. Can be also baked in the oven with bechamel for example: a real treat. Or can even be grilled.
They are widely used especially for the preparation of side dishes, both hot and cold, main courses or for the creation of pasta sauces and velvety soups.
But, can you recognize the fennel suitable for being eaten raw from the perfect fennel for cooking in the oven and in a pan?
Or which foods are best combined with their aromatic flavor?
Let’s see it together.
As mentioned earlier, fennel has a particular globular shape consisting of “sheaths”, ie the various layers of white leaves, which can vary in number and size. If the set of leaf sheaths gives the vegetable an elongated and slightly flattened shape, the fennel is called female and is recommended for cooking. If the shape is rounded, it is a male fennel and is more suitable to be eaten raw or in a salad.
When raw, the flavor of fennel is very strong, it approaches that of anise and licorice and has a herbaceous and woody aftertaste: it goes deliciously with that of citrus fruits, apples or even blueberries.
When cooked the notes of anise dissolve and the flavor is sweeter and slightly refreshing, almost reminiscent of mint: the best match in this case is with cheeses, with black olives but also with dried fruit or spices such as black pepper, saffron or rosemary. Braised fennel in particular has a taste reminiscent of cooked edible roots or tubers, with a nutty and herbaceous aftertaste.
In addition to being a truly versatile food, fennel also has the advantage of being available on market stalls all year round. But remember that their best season is winter, the ideal time to enjoy them in soup, baked au gratin, fried or stuffed or simply stewed in a pan.
Nutritional properties of fennel
Fennel is made up of 90% water and has a very low calorie content.
100 grams of fennel contain approximately 31 calories.
Totally free of any fat, they are therefore particularly suitable for those who follow a low-calorie diet, also thanks to the satiating power given by the good supply of fiber (about 3 grams).
It is an excellent snack “break hunger”: you can eat at will!
Fennel contains a good amount of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus (useful for strengthening bones and preventing tiredness), but the most present is potassium. It also contains vitamins A, C and some of group B. It is fairly rich in flavonoids.
Thanks to their many properties, fennels are widely used in herbal medicine: they are used for digestion problems and to regulate liver function.
It is a well-known vegetable, especially for its “miraculous” effects. Fennel is extremely useful in solving digestive problems, also providing a diuretic-detoxifying and carminative action in case of intestinal problems (such as mild spasms) or helping to alleviate the annoying sense of abdominal bloating. Thanks to the presence of vitamin C, it helps strengthen the immune system, also carrying out an antioxidant action.
It is especially appreciated for its purifying, diuretic and stimulating intestinal activity properties.
It is an aperitif and digestive vegetable, capable of stimulating gastric secretion and reducing intestinal fermentations and muscle spasms.
Also at the intestinal level, it is useful for disinfecting the digestive system and rebalancing the bacterial flora.
Fennel seeds (also called “achenes”, that is, dried fruits), obtained from a prolonged growth of the plant, are used to create herbal teas with an intense aroma thanks to the presence of anethole, an essential oil present both in wild fennel and in the sweet one, and thanks to which it is possible to obtain liqueurs or produce substances to be used for cosmetic use.
Being a vegetable rich in flavonoids and phytoestrogens (natural estrogenic substances), fennel can also provide a balancing effect on female hormone levels.
Side effects and contraindications of fennel
Fennel seeds, despite their richness and overall benefit, can be potentially dangerous for health. The cause is the presence, in minimal quantities, of estragole, a substance defined as carcinogenic by INRAN (National Institute for Nutrient Intake Research), but certain effects are possible only with excessive intake through fennel-based decoctions.
Estragole aside, fennel has no particular contraindications, except in the case where there is an intolerance to the substances present in the seeds, in this case it could cause irritation and hyperacidity caused by essential oil.
Also for this reason, the use of fennel is not recommended during gestation and breastfeeding.
Wild fennel is very common in Sicily, where its filiform green leaves are used to flavor many dishes. The seeds are widely used in herbal medicine and make a good herbal tea.
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
Thank you all for reading.
Have a wonderful day!
All photo credit: Pixabay edited by Popsicle Society