A Brief History Of Fennel Seeds- The Benefits Of Adding Fennel Seeds In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Fennel Seeds– Fennel Seeds Side Effects – Are There Any?
You know it as a flavoring agent. At times, you include this in your favorite dishes. Some even say it is a remedy for indigestion and gassiness according to their grandmothers. For others, it is also often mixed in various spice mixes like Chinese five-spice.
Regardless of how you use it, fennel seeds are among the healthiest foods you can include in your diet. It is also slowly becoming a go-to ingredient for health advocates.
What exactly are fennel seeds? Why should you include this in your diet? Is it 100 percent safe to consume?
Fennel Seeds, in a Nutshell
Fennel or Foeniculum vulgare is a celery-looking winter vegetable that has feathery leaves and yellow flowers. Similar to celery and parsnips, fennel has white bulb and long green stalks. Its peak-growing season is autumn and winter.
This plant originally came from Southern Mediterranean region, particularly Greece and Italy, and eventually expanded in the region. At present, fennel seed is among the most traded products in the world with India as a top exporter. It is easily grown in other areas in the world, particularly those on dry soils near riverbanks and seacoast.
- Looks like dill weed
- Smells like anise
- Has warm and woody undertones
- Mild, licorice-like flavor
On the other hand, fennel seeds are part of the plant. It is long, thin, and with pale green or brown color. They are also pointy-ended and lengthwise ridges. It is more potent compared to the rest of the parts of the plant because the seeds contain essential oils. Fennel seeds are rich in flavonoid antioxidants and concentrated source of micronutrients.
It also used mainly in the kitchen because of its ability to provide flavor to your favorite dishes. More than that, fennel seeds offer a wide array of health benefits, thereby making it a favorite among healthy-eating advocates.
The good news is fennel seeds are readily available. You can buy them in supermarkets or health food stores either as whole seeds or in ground form. Still, it is recommended to buy the whole seeds form and simply grind them whenever the recipe calls for it. This preserves the potency and flavor of fennel.
Fennel Seeds History
Fennel has been around for centuries although countries in the Mediterranean region were the first to use it. It was used for cooking and baking, particularly in loaves for added flavor.
Early Greek civilization used fennel as medicine. They would also use fennel during ceremonies because it symbolizes prosperity and pleasure.
Ancient Romans use fennel for the same purpose as Greeks. They used it as a digestive stimulant and thought of fennel as a sacred ritual object. Emperor Charlemagne also required the cultivation of fennel on all imperial farms.
On the other hand, ancient Chinese and Egyptians used fennel as medicine and food. It is also used in Ayurvedic medicine because of its warming properties. Traditional systems of medicine including Iranian, Unani, and Siddha also maximize this herbal plant.
Cherokees from North Africa gave fennel to kids with digestive issues as well as to mothers after giving birth. They also used fennel as part of their eyewash to improve eye health.
By the 18th century, people from Switzerland made absinthe, an alcoholic beverage with high alcohol content, using, among others, fennel and anise. This drink is also known for its hallucinogenic properties. As of this day, absinthe is no longer sold in bars and liquor stores.
Fast forward today, fennel seeds are widely used in cooking and baking.
Fennel Seeds Nutrition Facts
Fennel and its seeds are highly nutritious. In fact, one tablespoon or six grams of fennel seeds contain the following:
- Calories – 20
- Fiber – 2 grams
- Manganese – 17% of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
- Iron – 6% of the RDI
- Calcium – 5% of the RDI
- Magnesium – 5% of the RDI
- Potassium – 2% of the RDI
- Vitamin C – 1% of the RDI
Fennel seeds also have folate, niacin, vitamin A, copper, and phosphorus. Zinc and selenium are also among fennel seeds’ nutritional lineup.
This shows that adding fennel seeds in your diet will give you the most important nutrients without compromising your calorie intake.
Fennel Seeds Benefits
For many years, fennel and its seeds are used because of its tons of health benefits. It is also highly nutritious and has the ability to provide important nutrients.
To be specific, below are fennel seeds’ health benefits:
Rich In Antioxidants
Fennel is used as a treatment for various illnesses since ancient times. It turns out that this plant contains potent compounds and antioxidants, which are effective in combatting various diseases.
The seeds have concentrated oils that contain compounds specifically polyphenol antioxidants such as quercetin, chlorogenic acid, rosmarinic acid, and apigenin. These polyphenol antioxidants are also potent anti-inflammatory agents that give your health a boost. It could also reduce your risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and neurological diseases.
Apart from polyphenol antioxidants, fennel seeds are also rich in limonene, fenchone, and methyl chavicol. It also has anethole, which also has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects.
If you’re looking for a natural way to ensure your health, then eating fennel seeds could help. It combats free radicals that could harm your body, too.
Antibacterial And Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Fennel seeds are rich in antioxidants. This follows that it also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
A recent study showed that fennel extract could prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast like E.coli, Candida albicans, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Consequently, it has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Vitamin C and quercetin, which are also known antioxidants found in fennel seeds, are also helpful in reducing inflammation. This reduces your risk of developing various illnesses as well.
Helps Suppress Appetite
Obesity is one of the most serious conditions today. More than gaining weight, obesity could be a gateway to various illnesses like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes among others. Skipping meals or going for drastic diet plans are not advisable because the body needs nutrients to function properly.
This is where fennel seeds come in. It helps curb appetite, thereby minimizing your calorie intake.
Based on a study published in Clinical Nutrition Research, women who drank fennel tea before lunch were less hungry and consumed less calories.
This is because of two crucial components: anethole and fiber.
Fennel contains fiber, which helps increase satiety. This helps you feel fuller longer. Consequently, anethole, a major component of fennel seeds that also has appetite-suppressing qualities. This helps reduce your food intake as well.
Cancer Fighting Properties
Did you know that cancer is the second leading cause of death around the world? In 2018 alone, the World Health Organization estimated 9.6 million deaths worldwide.
In the United States, cancer is also the second most common cause of death with an estimated 1.8 million new cases in 2020.
There are several ways on how you can prevent or reduce your risk of developing cancer. This includes adding fennel seeds in your diet.
Fennel seeds contain powerful plant compounds that could combat this condition. Anethole, one of fennel seeds’ most active compounds, possess cancer-fighting properties.
Based on a study published in Phytomedicine, anethole suppressed growth of cancer cells. It also induced apoptosis or programmed cell death in human breast cancer cells.
Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed that fennel extract from the seeds stopped the spreading of human breast cancer cells. Consequently, it induced the death of cancer cells.
Experts need to conduct more studies to test the anti-cancer properties of fennel seeds. Nevertheless, this could be promising.
Boosts Heart Health
According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, regardless of gender and race. In fact, one person dies of heart disease every 37 seconds with approximately 647,000 every year.
There are several ways to ensure that your heart is functioning properly. One of these is by adding fennel seeds in your diet.
Fennel seeds are rich in fiber. As a matter of fact, one tablespoon of fennel seeds has two grams. To keep things in perspective, apple has three to four grams of fiber.
Fiber-rich diet reduces heart disease. Believe it or not, seven grams of fiber everyday could reduce heart risk by nine percent according to a study published in British Medical Journal.
Fennel seeds also contain essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These nutrients are also essential in keeping your heart healthy. Potassium, in particular, also helps lower blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Recommended For Breastfeeding Women
They say breast milk is best for babies. This is true. Unfortunately, not all new moms could produce liters of milk instantly.
If you need a boost in breast milk production, then fennel seeds could help. Fennel has galactogenic properties, which helps boost milk production. This is because of fennel’s anethole, specifically dianethole and photoanethole.
That’s not all. It turns out that fennel increases milk secretion and blood levels of prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for signaling the body to produce breast milk.
Before you munch on fennel seeds, make sure you consult your doctor first. This way, you can be sure that you won’t compromise your baby’s well being.
Colic, especially on babies, is not a major cause of concern. For new parents, this could case panic and worry since colic makes the situation uncomfortable for your baby. In fact, it is among the most asked questions during trips to the pediatrician.
There are available medications to treat colic. However, these medications are not consistently effective and could cause unwanted effects on your child. The safest way to address colic is by using fennel seeds oil. Simply rub the oil on your infant’s tummy to reduce colic and minimize discomfort.
Another option you could try is drinking fennel tea. The nutrients from fennel can be transmitted to your newborn through breastfeeding. This will minimize colic as well.
Ease Menopausal Symptoms
Going through menopause isn’t easy. It entails a lot of physical and emotional changes because of the decrease in hormones, particularly estrogen. The good news is fennel seeds could help ease symptoms associated with menopause.
Based on a recent study published in the journal Menopause, fennel could contribute to improvement in menopausal symptoms. In the said study, women between 45 and 60 were divided into two groups: one receiving fennel for eight weeks and the other is placebo.
Those who took fennel capsules reported significant improvements in symptoms. On the other hand, the placebo group did not see any changes.
Another study published in the Journal of Menopausal Medicine showed similar results. Women who used fennel experienced:
- Reduced vaginal itching and dryness
- Better sexual function and sexual satisfaction
- Decrease in hot flashes and night sweats
- Improved sleep conditions
Although menopause is a natural part of aging, fennel could offer relief against the symptoms to help you focus more on equally important things.
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found in most foods, although in different quantities. It is important because promotes the growth of good gut bacteria, reduces your appetite, and makes you feel fuller longer. This also helps in weight management.
Fennel has abundant source of fiber. This means it is also more than capable of keeping your digestive system healthy. Since fiber acts like a brush, it also helps clear the colon from toxins and other unwanted elements.
To prove its digestive capabilities, a review published in International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition identified fennel as among those with digestion-enhancing properties.
There are also groups of people who chew on fennel seeds especially after meals. Doing so not only help them with digestion but also get rid of bad breath. Consequently, the oils found in the seeds stimulate the secretion of the body’s digestive juices, thereby helping in digestion.
Fennel Seeds Side Effects
Fennel seeds and fennel, in general, are safe, especially when eaten in moderation. So far, there are no reported cases about adverse effects of this favorite kitchen ingredient on people.
Still, this doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Precaution is still recommended especially if you are:
- Pregnant – Fennel has strong estrogenic properties. This means it could potentially act similarly to estrogen hormone. If taken in high doses, fennel seeds could have toxic effects on the fetal cells, which potentially destroy fetal growth and development.
- Taking Medications – Prescription drugs like estrogen pills and cancer medications must never be mixed with fennel seeds. Plant-based supplements like fennel seeds could alter the effects of the drug and could lead to detrimental effects.
- Have Hormone–Sensitive Condition – Fennel seeds could potentially act like estrogen. Therefore, avoid this ingredient if you were diagnosed with hormone-sensitive illness like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer.
- Bleeding Disorder – Further studies are needed but health experts warn those with bleeding disorders to consume, if not avoid, fennel seeds. It could increase the risk of bleeding or bruising especially when taken excessively.
- Allergies – If you are allergic to carrots, celery, or mugwort, then there is a possibility that you are also allergic to fennel.
- Kidney Disease – Fennel seeds have high potassium content. If you have kidney disease, it is advisable to take it easy on consuming foods rich in potassium since the kidneys are unable to regulate this nutrient efficiently. Allowing potassium to stay in your body for a longer time could lead to fatigue, nausea, difficulty in breathing, and heart palpitation among others.
Keep in mind that moderation is key. Even if you didn’t fall in any of those mentioned, this doesn’t mean you won’t possibly experience adverse effects when taking fennel.
Fennel Seeds Storage
Storage is important in ensuring a longer shelf life for fennel seeds – or any other kitchen ingredient. If you want to prolong its shelf life, here are things you need to consider when storing fennel seeds:
- Transfer the fennel seeds in an airtight container to retain its flavor and potency.
- Store in a cool place like drawer or cabinet. You can also place the seeds inside the refrigerator or freezer, although room temperature is still preferred.
- Avoid direct heat and sunlight.
These tips ensure that fennel seeds could last up to three or four years., assuming that you did not grind your entire stock. After grinding, the fennel seeds’ shelf life will be reduced to months since it easily loses its potency.
The good news is that fennel seeds don’t spoil easily. Still, it will lose its flavor and potency over time; hence these tips help in prolonging its shelf life.
To ensure that you are using good fennel seeds, you need to check the aroma and flavor. Crush a small amount on your hands and then smell and taste it. Weak flavor and lack of aroma means fennel seeds are no longer good for consumption.
Fennel Seeds Recipe / Usage
The good news is fennel seeds are easy to use and add in your diet. Here are some ideas you can try:
- Grind or crush one teaspoon of whole fennel seeds and then add to your tea.
- Or crush a spoonful of whole fennel seeds and pour one to two cups of hot water over for your own fennel tea.
- Add one tablespoon of fennel seeds to the batter for your baked desserts like cookies and muffins.
- Toast a spoonful of fennel seeds and then mix them on your favorite dish. This will give a sweet, licorice flavor.
- Use it to flavor vegetable, fish, and meat dishes.
- Chew whole fennel seeds to freshen your breath. It helps with digestion as well.
Reminder: consume in moderation. Fennel seeds have more oil concentration compared to the fennel plant. Keep your consumption between one teaspoon and one tablespoon only to avoid the risk of developing side effects.
Fennel Seeds Alternatives
Fennel seeds are readily available in the supermarket or health food stores. In case you ran out and the recipe calls for it, here are substitutes you can try:
- Anise Seed – This is the best alternative to fennel seeds. Despite coming from two different plants, fennel and anise seeds have same flavor profile. Use the same amount of anise seeds when substituting fennel seeds.
- Cumin Seeds – This has a spicy and earthy aroma compared to fennel seeds, but still a good alternative. You can also use equal amounts required in the recipe.
- Licorice Root – This is another good substitute since licorice root and fennel seeds have similar taste. Nonetheless, licorice root has stronger flavor than fennel seeds. When using licorice root as a substitute, use half teaspoon of licorice root for every teaspoon fennel seed that the recipe requires.
- Caraway Seeds – This ingredient has similar flavor notes with licorice root. It has a nutty flavor and not as sweet as fennel. This is ideal for rye bread recipes where you can use caraway seeds instead of fennel seeds.
- Dill Seeds – This has similar flavor with caraway seeds; hence could be a substitute in case you ran out of fennel seeds. Dill seeds are not as flavorful as fennel seeds, so make sure to double the measurement asked for in the recipe.
Take note that these substitutes can only be used in the kitchen. Also, it is recommended that use the alternatives in their ground form. This way, you can achieve the same flavor even without using fennel seeds.
The Bottom Line
There are tons of healthy foods to ensure optimal health. One of them is fennel seeds. It is knows for its antioxidant properties, particularly anethole. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory capabilities, which are helpful against toxins, bacteria, and free radicals.
More than this, fennel seeds are rich in fiber, which helps in proper digestion and weight management. It is also helpful for breastfeeding moms and babies with colic.
Still, take the necessary precaution. Anything in excess is not recommended. If you have existing medical conditions, talk to your doctor first regarding your intention to include fennel seeds in your diet.
Overall, fennel seeds are generally safe and recommended in people’s diet.