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).
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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.