Is Fennel the Same as Anise?


For anyone who’s done a good amount of cooking, at some point you’ll probably meet up with ingredients you’re not familiar with. Also, there are those that are very similar to one another.

One of the questions we’ve been asked before is, “is fennel the same as anise?”

In this article, we explore both these ingredients. And, we explain the difference between anise and fennel.

This will hopefully help anyone who’s unsure about the two.


Difference Between Anise and Fennel

Many people confuse bulb fennel with anise.

Unbeknownst to them, anise and fennel are two distinct plants. Although, they do have similar tastes.

If you want to know more about how to tell one from the other, as well as which to use on what foods, read on to find out about their differences.


An Overview of Anise and Fennel

star-aniseAnise and fennel are closely related and almost similar plants. They are native to Egypt, China, India, the Mediterranean regions, Europe, and the Middle East. This may be one of the reasons they’re not as well known in the U.S.

If you find yourself confusing one for the other, worry not. You’re not the only one.

In fact, a report by the World’s Healthiest Foods shows that anise is frequently mislabeled as fennel. And this is by people who handle produce on a regular basis.

What the two have similar is that they’re often used for cooking. Depending on your dish, you may use them in different ways. However, both anise and fennel seeds have a sharp, sweet taste similar to licorice. Their unique flavor is what makes them useful in cooking.

They are also rich in Zinc, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, and Iron minerals. Plus, they also contain Vitamins A, B complex, and C.


What They Are

When it comes to physical appearance,

  • Anise (Pimpenella anisum) is a Mediterranean plant with loose umbels and small yellowish-white flowers that produce aniseed. Anise is often referred to as star anise because of its star shape.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) meanwhile, is a plant with feathery leaves, small umbels, and yellow flowers.

These two plants belong to the parsley family. However, a major difference between them is that anise is a spice whereas fennel is widely known as a vegetable.


Anise vs. Fennel: Other Differences


While anise seeds are the only parts of anise plant that can be consumed, in fennel, the leaves, seeds, bulbs and stems are all edible.


Medicinal uses and health benefits:

anise-vs-fennelAs far as medicinal purposes are concerned, anise is consumed to cure excessive gas and coughs. It is also used as a breath freshener.

Some people also use anise oil or aniseed oil. This oil, which comes from the plant, is used as an expectorant and a carminative to relieve flatulence in medicine.

On the other hand, fennel seeds or bulbs are used to treat stomach ache. They are sometimes used as a diuretic. In addition, fennel has anti-inflammatory properties as well.


For food flavoring and additives:

The stems of the sweet fennel plant are often used to add flavor in broths and sauces. Meanwhile, the fronds can be sliced and used as garnish. The seeds of the fennel are also used to add flavor in pork and sausage dishes.

They likewise make pleasant additions when included in stews, added to bread, and pasta sauces.

With anise, aniseed is used to add taste to baked goods and other desserts. This food is also a common ingredient in alcoholic beverages like Sambuca.

Unlike fennel which has a faint licorice-like taste, anise has a slight licorice feel.


Growth and physical appearance:

Anise is an annual herb which requires yearly replanting. This means it takes more effort to grow them. Meanwhile, fennel is a perennial plant that regrows naturally every year.

Whereas anise is a flowering and rooted herb that produces licorice-flavored seeds, fennel is a seed-producing herb with a licorice flavor that has both bulbs and root varieties.

The anise plant has small clusters of yellowish-white flowers. And, it grows to a maximum of 18 inches tall. Comparatively, the fennel plant has yellow flowers and grows up to approximately 5 feet tall.

The size difference makes it quite easy to tell one plant from the other.


Varieties of each of these plants:

The fennel plant is categorized into two: Florence and sweet (common) fennel.

Florence fennel, which is cultivated for its bulbs and usually consumed as a vegetable, is crunchy. And, it comes with a tiny bit of sweetness. It can be braised and grilled or eaten raw in salads.

When cooked, the bulbs resemble leeks although it is milder and a bit less onion-like in taste. The sweet fennel on the other hand, is planted for its leaves and seeds.

On the contrary, there is little known about anise varieties.


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