The strict Puritans of early American history were required to be present – and attentive - at lengthy church services and meetings. Prayers to stay awake and suppress hunger were not always heard. Fortunately, they were blessed with a tiny spice to chew on – what they called ‘Meeting Seeds’ – which curbed their hunger, kept them alert, and just happened to freshen their breath to the delight of their neighbor in the pew.
The answer to their prayers? Fennel Seeds.
The licorice-flavored, oval-shaped, yellowish-green, grooved ‘seed’ is actually the fruit of the fennel plant. When the perennial herb’s yellow flowers die, the seeds form, then ripen, dry and harden, before being harvested. The bush was originally from the Mediterranean region, but now grows like a weed all over the world.
While the leaves, bulb, and the potent and costly pollen, are also added to flavor dishes, the seeds are more commonly used. Fennel seeds are an essential ingredient in Italian sausages, Chinese Five Spice, in many Indian curries, and as a wonderful complement in cooking fish.
But to many of us, it is that unusual seed – sometimes sugar coated - at the counter of Indian and Pakistani restaurants. Similar to anise (aniseed), but sweeter and milder, people in South Asia chew on fennel seeds as an after-mint. Fennel seeds also help aid in digestion following a heavy meal.
Fennel seeds may also improve eye sight, even showing positive results in the treatment of glaucoma. A good benefit, since you may need better vision to spot the difference between cumin seeds and fennel seeds (sometimes called ‘Sweet Cumin’), since cumin is only slightly darker and smaller than fennel.
Are you now convinced that fennel seed is the answer to your prayers? Probably not, but it will help you spice up that fish for dinner, and even better, get you through your next work meeting…
For a taste of fennel seeds, try one of these excellent recipes: