Florence fennel has a broad bulb and stems that can be added raw to salads or cooked into healthy side dishes. Snip the feathery green foliage and sprinkle over foods as a flavor-boosting garnish.
Fennel can be categorized into two main types:
Florence fennel, cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and United States, has a broad, bulbous bulb that's used as a vegetable. Both the base and stems can be eaten raw or cooked, and the greenery can be used as a garnish or snipped and sprinkled over foods like fresh dill.
Common fennel is the variety used to produce fennel seeds. These oval, greenish-brown seeds are available whole or ground and are used to flavor both sweet and savory foods, as well as many liqueurs. Common fennel is bulbless, but the stems and greenery can be used in the same ways as Florence fennel.
Fennel is usually available from fall through early spring. Choose firm, clean bulbs without signs of splitting, bruising or browning. The stalks and greens should be a fresh green color. Signs of flowering buds indicate the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel should have a fragrant aroma, lightly reminiscent of licorice or anise.
At some markets, Florence fennel is mislabeled as "anise" or "sweet anise." The flavor of fennel, however, is sweeter and more delicate than anise. When cooked, its taste becomes even more subtle.