Q: Is there a difference between anise and fennel? I use fennel because I can’t find anise in local stores.
A. Fennel and anise have similar, licorice-like flavors. But the form is different.
Florence fennel, the type you usually see in markets, is a root vegetable with a feathery frond. The bulbous root can be sliced and cooked like a vegetable, while the frond can be minced and used the way you’d use a fresh herb. The flavor is similar to anise, but much milder, sweeter and more delicate. Fennel seed, usually dried and used to flavor sausage, comes from a related plant called common fennel.
Anise is classified as a spice. You rarely encounter the plant, just the seed, sometimes called aniseed. It’s used to flavor a lot of things, such as sweets, and particularly beverages common in Mediterranean countries, like pastis (France), anisette (Italy) and ouzo (Greece).
You’re most likely to find dried anise in the spice section of a well-stocked supermarket, particularly in areas of the country where there are large populations of people of Italian descent. Dried fennel seed should be easy to find in supermarket spice sections.