Fennel

Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.

Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which closely superimposed stalks are arranged. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.

Fennel, sliced, raw
1.00 cup
(87.00 grams)
Calories: 27
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin C14%

 fiber11%

 potassium10%

 molybdenum10%

 manganese9%

 copper7%

 folate6%

 phosphorus6%

 magnesium4%

 calcium4%

 iron4%

 vitamin B34%

 pantothenic acid4%

Health Benefits

Fennel Contains Unique Phytonutrients with Antioxidant and Health-Promoting Effects

Like many of its fellow spices, fennel contains its own unique combination of phytonutrients—including the flavonoids rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides—that give it strong antioxidant activity. The phytonutrients in fennel extracts compare favorably in research studies to BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a potentially toxic antioxidant commonly added to processed foods.

The most fascinating phytonutrient compound in fennel, however, may be anethole—the primary component of its volatile oil. In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has repeatedly been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. Researchers have also proposed a biological mechanism that may explain these anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects. This mechanism involves the shutting down of a intercellular signaling system called tumor necrosis factor (or TNF)-mediated signaling. By shutting down this signaling process, the anethole in fennel prevents activation of a potentially strong gene-altering and inflammation-triggering molecule called NF-kappaB. The volatile oil has also been shown to be able to protect the liver of experimental animals from toxic chemical injury.

Antioxidant Protection and Immune Support from Vitamin C in Fennel

In addition to its unusual phytonutrients, fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant, able to neutralize free radicals in all aqueous environments of the body. If left unchecked, these free radicals cause cellular damage that results in the pain and joint deterioration that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The vitamin C found in fennel bulb is directly antimicrobial and is also needed for the proper function of the immune system.

Fiber, Folate and Potassium in Fennel for Cardiovascular and Colon Health

As a very good source of fiber, fennel bulb may help to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. And since fiber also removes potentially carcinogenic toxins from the colon, fennel bulb may also be useful in preventing colon cancer. In addition to its fiber, fennel is a very good source of folate, a B vitamin that is necessary for the conversion of a dangerous molecule called homocysteine into other, benign molecules. At high levels, homocysteine, which can directly damage blood vessel walls, is considered a significant risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Fennel is also a very good source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for stroke and heart attack.

Description

Fennel is a versatile vegetable that plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. Its esteemed reputation dates back to the earliest times and is reflected in its mythological traditions. Greek myths state that fennel was not only closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine, but that a fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men.

Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which closely superimposed stalks are arranged. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves near which flowers grow and produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.

Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise, so much so that fennel is often mistakenly referred to as anise in the marketplace. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and striated texture.

The scientific name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare.

History

Ever since ancient times, fennel has enjoyed a rich history. The ancient Greeks knew fennel by the name "marathron"; it grew in the field in which one of the great ancient battles was fought and which was subsequently named the Battle of Marathon after this revered plant. Fennel was also awarded to Pheidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Persian invasion to Sparta. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.

Fennel has been grown throughout Europe, especially areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and the Near East since ancient times. Today, the United States, France, India and Russia are among the leading cultivators of fennel.

How to Select and Store

Good quality fennel will have bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not splay out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be green in color. There should be no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. Fennel is usually available from autumn through early spring.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and fennel is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including fennel. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells fennel but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown fennel is very likely to be fennel that displays the USDA organic logo.

Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator crisper, where it should keep fresh for about four days.

Here's why we recommend refrigerating fennel. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

It is best to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. While fresh fennel can be frozen after first being blanched, it seems to lose much of its flavor during this process. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they will keep for about six months. Storing fennel seeds in the refrigerator will help to keep them fresher longer.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare fennel the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Fennel, sliced, raw
1.00 cup
87.00 grams
Calories: 27
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C10.44 mg149.3excellent
fiber2.70 g117.2very good
potassium360.18 mg106.9very good
molybdenum4.35 mcg106.5very good
manganese0.17 mg95.7very good
copper0.06 mg74.4very good
phosphorus43.50 mg64.1very good
folate23.49 mcg63.9very good
calcium42.63 mg42.8good
pantothenic acid0.20 mg42.7good
magnesium14.79 mg42.5good
iron0.64 mg42.4good
vitamin B30.56 mg42.3good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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