It’s not the same as star anise. It’s close, or should I say star anise is close to fennel seed – a cousin, seems like the same DNA, but is it really? I mean, do I really want to be putting licorice into my savory sauces? That’s what star anise is, basically, the taste of licorice – whatever makes licorice licorice, that’s what star anise tastes like.
Fennel on the other hand – a whiff of something like licorice, but until somebody pointed it out decades ago, I never connected the two – fennel with licorice. I connected it with Italian sausage. Pizzelles (an Italian pastry made on something that looks like a fancy waffle iron), now that’s made using star anise.
Fennel is a savory spice, not a dessert spice. Though now that I’m thinking about it, I think I will make a dessert out of fennel seed. Some day.
There’s a complexity to fennel seed that star anise lacks. Umami is what I’m talkin’ about here. Fennel seed and allspice – yeah I couldn’t leave that other mami out. Team those two and explosions occur in the kitchen, in the pot, in the sauce, in the plant meat…whoa.
Sorry Asians, but soy sauce doesn’t hold a candle to fennel and allspice in the umami department. I don’t know why cooks are putting soy sauce into everything they make. Cream soups even. Take it out.
Of course allspice is not exactly considered a savory spice. Sweet as in dessert is where it is most often used.
I use ground fennel in sauces, soups, salad dressings, plant meats, appetizers, veggie dishes and on and on.
I buy fennel seed in bulk and grind my own. If you live near an Italian grocery store, they’ll probably sell it finely ground, which is just as good as you doing it, since they do it from the seed just like you would. And they only grind what they know they’ll sell.
I use a coffee grinder with good results. It’s best to have two grinders, one for spices and seeds and one for coffee.