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Botanical Name: Foeniculum officinalis
Family: Umbelliferae Hindi
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region. The plant's popularity spread northward during the Middle Ages, when it was grown in monasteries. In course of time, fennel's usage spread both to the East and to the North, which is why fennel is now part of northern European cookery as well as of East Asian cooking. In Greece, it was a symbol of success, whereas in Rome, young fennel shoots are still used as food. In India, fennel thrives in sunny, limey, well-drained soils, of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra. It is cultivated in these regions mostly as a garden crop.
Fennel is a perennial herb, and the whole plant is aromatic. The leaves and fruits resemble those of anise, but are larger and pale lime-green in colour. Fennel is the dried aromatic ripe fruit that grows well in mild climates.
Its composition is as follows:
Throughout Asia and Europe fennel fruits or seeds are used, but in small quantities. It is a component of the Chinese five spice powder, and the Bengali panch phoran in India.
In ancient India, fennel was used as a condiment and culinary spice. Today, it is used here for meat dishes, fishes and seafood. The sweet flavour of fennel harmonises with the earthy aroma of bread, and gives pickles or vinegar a special flavour.
As fennel is native to the Mediterranean, it is most typical spice used in the cuisines of southern Europe.
It is used for meats and poultry, but even more for fish and seafood.
Fennel is rather popular in southern France, and often contained in the Provencal spice mixture known as herbes de Province. In Italy, there is a small-scale usage of fennel pollen as an expensive and rather extravagant spice. Also known as 'Spice of the Angels', fennel pollen is also produced in California as a small-scale exotic crop. The leaves and stalks of the fennel can be eaten as a vegetable.
In Kashmir there is an excellent dish of duck flavoured with fennel that is toasted. In Sri Lanka, toasted fennel fruits are one of the typical ingredients responsible for the subtle and complex aroma of fiery and chilli-laden curries.
Fennel is much used in the cuisines of Iran and Arab countries. In Europe, it is used chiefly to flavour rye-breads, pickled vegetables and herbed vinegar.
It is also used in many pastries, pasta sauces and sausages. In India and the neighbouring countries, fennel is used in paans, soups, meat dishes, bread-rolls, sauces, pastries confectioneries, pickles and liquor.
Fennel is aromatic, stimulant, carminative and stomachic. The herb is mainly used with purgatives to allay their tendency to grip. Fennel seeds form an ingredient of the compound, liquorice powder. It is also used in relieving flatulence in infants. While the leaves are used in the treatment of respiratory disorders, the seeds are useful during painful menstruation.
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