What Is Fennel Pollen and How Do You Use It?

Known as "the spice of angels," this highly potent ingredient is one of the world's most expensive spices. 

fennel pollen and fennel flowers
Photo: Getty Images/cheche22

Cooks often boast the use of a "secret ingredient" that is said to change the whole dynamic of a dish, but in the case of fennel pollen, this is actually true. This highly coveted spice made its way to America from Italy in the 1990s, and ever since it's had dinner guests asking, "What's in this dish?" This "culinary fairy dust" has enchanted-like powers that transform everything from savory pork dishes to ice cream.

What Is Fennel Pollen?

You're likely familiar with a fennel — it's a member of the carrot family and features a hearty bulb with long green stalks. At the top of those stalks there are light, feathery leaves called fennel fronds that produce tiny yellow blossoms when they go to seed. Fennel pollen is harvested from these blossoms. Because fennel is notoriously difficult to farm, fennel pollen is foraged by hand from wild fennel, which grows primarily in Italy and California.

Fennel Pollen Flavor

Referred to as both "the spice of angels" and "culinary fairy dust," it seems everyone who's tried fennel pollen falls for its nuanced flavor. Like fennel seed, it has an anise-like licorice flavor with notes of citrus and honey that enhances sweet and savory dishes alike.

Fennel Pollen vs. Fennel Seed

fennel pollen, fennel seeds, and fennel flowers
Getty Images/cheche22

Both fennel pollen and fennel seed come from the fennel plant. The former is exactly what it sounds like, the seeds of the fennel plant, while fennel pollen is the pollen harvested from the tiny flowers of the plant. Although you can use crushed fennel seed as a substitute for fennel pollen in a pinch, it's not quite as intense in flavor as fennel pollen (but it is far less expensive!).

What Is Fennel Pollen Used For?

Fennel pollen was actually introduced to American cooks by Italian immigrants who planted the flowering plant in California. Its sweet, earthy flavor is often paired with pork (such as porchetta), either on its own or mixed in with salt and pepper. Try adding it to roasted chicken just before cooking, or to grains, pastas, soups, salad dressings, pizza, granola, or roasted vegetables. It even works in baked goods or sprinkled on vanilla ice cream! Remember that a little goes a long way when using fennel pollen — this potent spice packs a punch!

Where to Buy Fennel Pollen

Here's the catch: Fennel pollen is one of the world's most expensive spices due to the fact that it is mostly foraged from wild fennel, which yields very little pollen per plant. If you want to get a feel for its flavor without breaking the bank, you can always give fennel seeds a try first. But if you're ready to invest in this coveted spice, here are a few top-rated brands available online:

How to Store Fennel Pollen

Keep fennel pollen stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to two years.


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