Apr 3, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Fennel, Saunf, or Badian

Fennel, saunf, badian, finocchio, fenouil, fenchel, hinojo, marathon, barisaunf, madhurika, adas, wooi heung, whatever you wish to call it here 'tis:

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a hardy perennial herb belonging to the carrot, parsley, and celery family. It features feathery leaves, tiny yellow flowers, and glaucous green hollow stems. Fennel prefers sandy, well drained soils and a moderate climates as found in it's native habitat along the shores of the Mediterranean. Fennel is also considered an invasive pest in my native California and you will often see it growing wild along the sandy shoulders of highways and roads.

All parts of the fennel plant are edible, including the bulbous roots, strongly flavored leaves, and it's seed like fruits. The licorice-like flavor of flavor of fennel comes from the aromatic compound "anethole." Anethole is the same terpenoid responsible for the unique flavor of anise and star anise, hence the similar aroma and taste. Fennel tends to be a bit milder in licorice flavor than anise or star anise.

Many Desi cultures use fennel seeds in their cuisines. In the Kashmiri language fennel seeds are called "badian," and interestingly anise and star anise are called badian in Kashmiri too. "Saunf," "madhurika," and barisaunf are other names fennel seeds are called by in Desi-dom. Fennel seeds are a dominant flavor in many savory Kashmiri dishes, Gujarati cooking, and are one of the five spices in the classic spice mix called "panch phoran" used in Nepali, Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Bengali cuisines.

 Fennel seeds' warm, aromatic, licorice-y, and sweet notes are a great pairing with the gamy flavor of the mutton or goat so favored in Desi cuisines. Surprisingly to me fennel seeds also add an interesting punch to blander dishes such as dals too. The flavor of fennel seed tends to grow upon cooking, if not judiciously used fennel's bold flavor can overtake an entire dish.

"Mukwhas" is a breath freshener and digestive aid commonly served after meals in Desi countries. I'm sure any Westerners whom have ever been to an Indian restaurant will be familiar with it. Fennel seeds both dry roasted and with colorful sugar or silvered coatings are usually the main ingredient in all the various blends of mukwhas. Mukwhas is derived from the Hindi and Urdu words "mukh" meaning mouth and "vas" meaning smell.  Other mukwhas blends may also include rock sugar, date sugar, coconut shavings, sesame seeds, rose petals, tamarind leaves, cashews, salt, turmeric, coriander seeds, peanuts and cashews.

Helpful hints:
Dried fennel seeds are light green when fresh and slowly age to a dull grey.  For culinary usage always choose the greenest fennel seeds you can find for the best flavor.

An interesting aside:
I have been notified that I have been nominated for the "Best Food Blog"  AND "Best New Blog" awards on the  nepaliaustralian blog so get on over there and vote for my blog if you choose at:

Be sure to check out all the other amazing blogs in all the different categories and vote for all your favorites!!! Winners will be announced in May.


  1. Thanks for telling us what's involved in the mukwhas, Bibi. When I was a child, one could still purchase tins of Sen-sen "for better breath", and I'd assumed the ingredients were similar.

    I keep a glass jar of fennel seed on hand to perk up my pizzas when the "spicy Italian sausage" isn't as spicy as it should be. (Hot doesn't equal spicy in my vocabulary of tastes.)

    1. Hi Beth,
      Sen-sen always reminded me of the Scandinavian licorice treats we used to get for Xmas. I think you can still buy Sen-sen can't you? I have one cousin who HATES anything licorice. I absolutely adore anything licorice-y so she'd give me all her treats.

      I like a bit of fennel seeds in my marinara sauce too!

    2. Now Beth, everyone knows you don't need Sen Sen for your breath if you aren't out sneaking cigarettes with your friends. Don't worry, I won't rat you out to your folks ;)

  2. I got into a heated debate with my stepmother over mukvas as she kept telling me it was anise and not fennel, and I kept assuring her it was fennel. My dad chimed in telling her the same and she still stuck to her story saying that even if it did not look the part it was definitely the taste of anise, that fennel taste totally different. My dad then pointed that in Switerland most people have it as an herbal tea when they are sick and it is never or almost never used whole. She still held to her view making us look like idiot with my husband not understanding a word of the animated exchange of word LOL. When we translated the whole thing for him he could not understand what anise is, because he isn't into cooking. My MIL says that they are both called "saunf" which adds to the confusion.

    The fun part is that my stepmom is really not a great cook and my dad is and knows his ingredients but she still swore that he was as wrong as I was.

    1. Hi Cyn,
      HAH! Fennel is so much cheaper than anise I'm sure that's why they use it in mukwhas. Plus India is the largest producer of fennel seeds in the world.

      I recall a similar argument between 3 of my Scandinavian aunts as we were making pfeffernussen for Xmas one year. One aunt brought fennel seeds for the spice blend in the cookies. Another aunt insisted that the fennel seeds should not be used in the cookies as they were an inferior substitute for the anise that was necessary for the spices. Then a 3rd aunt chimed in saying that anise seeds AND star anise were absolutely necessary for perfectly flavored pfeffernussen. It was a wonder those cookies ever were made. We did have the hartshorn that was needed though!

  3. Okay, I clicked over here to read this as I had a salted licorice in my mouth-how's that for coincidence? I know people use anise and fennel interchangeably but that just seems wrong to me-they taste quite different. I have a fennel bulb in the fridge at the moment too-you might be getting the idea we like fennel!

    It won't grow where I'm at-believe me, I've tried. The plants are pretty though-thanks for the picture.

    1. Hi Goody,
      It's deja vu all over again!

      I get different flavors from fennel, anise, and star anise too. They do all have a similar licorice note but fennel seems a bit more grassy, anise is way heavier on licorice and sweetness, and star anise has a "root beer" note combined with licorice.

  4. It grows like a weed in our garden, in between paving bricks, dominating the beds, growing so tall I have to hack it down as we can't spy on the neighbours. I love the smell but not keen on the taste although I did make a fennel pesto last Autumn that was surprisingly delicious. xxx

  5. Hi Vix,
    I used to chop up fennel bulbs in California and roast them in the with tomatoes, onions, garlic, sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. YUM!!


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