You have a recipe that calls for caraway seeds, but you only have a jar of fennel seeds on your pantry shelf. Can you sub them in? It depends. Caraway, also known as meridian fennel, and the fruit (seeds) are often used whole and have a flavor that’s similar to anise. Caraway is often used as a spice in breads (especially rye), and is also found in sauerkraut. Nearly a third of the world’s supply is grown in Finland and most recipes call for only a small amount (likely a teaspoon) of the pungent seed.
Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant, which is a flowering herb that has a variety of uses. The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are used—the seeds taste similar to anise and are sometimes used in sweet desserts or included in a breath-freshening post-dinner digestive aid made of various dry-roasted seeds and seasonings (often found in India and Pakistan). Fennel seeds are also the primary flavoring for Italian sausage, and their flavor is most prominent when they’re toasted or sautéed in oil.
Caraway and fennel seeds can be used interchangeably, but the subtle flavor differences will be detectable. So basically, if you’re in a pinch, go for it, but it makes sense to keep a separate jar of each in your pantry. Check out our seven recipes for caraway and fennel seeds and you’ll have plenty of ways to use these flavorful additions to any recipe.
1. Spicy Arugula Salad with Candied Fennel Seeds
A zesty arugula salad gains a crunchy component with these candied fennel seeds. Melt sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir and add in the fennel seeds, then reduce the heat. Continue until the mixture looks crystallized. You can keep the candied seeds in an airtight container for a month. Get the recipe here.
2. Fennel Digestif
This unique DIY project has fennel fronds, a full tablespoon of fennel seeds, and an unflavored alcohol like Everclear (or you can use vodka) that makes a flavorful post-dinner drink. Let the mixture sit for about a week and then remove the fronds—the seeds are able to soak longer and will add flavor as the liqueur ages. Get our Fennel Digestif recipe.
3. Beer and Caraway Seed Mustard
Making your own mustard is a whole lot easier than you think! Yellow and brown mustard seeds, along with cider vinegar, a half cup of dark beer, salt, and caraway seeds combine to make a grainy mustard that you can’t forget. Get our Beer and Caraway Seed Mustard recipe.
4. Italian Meatballs
These meatballs are a labor of love: ground beef, pork, turkey, and spices (including fresh parsley, pepper, fennel seeds, and garlic) make for a quintessential Italian classic. You can make a double batch of these and keep the meatballs in the freezer for a last-minute meal served with a bowl of fresh pasta. Get our Italian Meatballs recipe.
5. Irish Soda Bread
Traditional Irish soda bread almost always contains caraway—this recipe calls for four teaspoons of caraway seeds, and almost three full cups of golden raisins. Make sure to slash the traditional lines on top of the loaf so it has the perfect St. Patrick’s Day appeal. Get the recipe here.
6. Tunisian Lamb and Quince Stew
A complex and flavorful stew in which the caraway seeds meld with garlic, dried arbol chiles, paprika, cinnamon, saffron, honey, coriander, and quince. This stew gets even more flavorful the next day, so plan ahead and make it in advance. Get our Tunisian Lamb and Quince Stew recipe.
7. Sautéed Brussels with Caraway and Lemon
Slice the Brussels sprouts thinly so they soak up the flavors—lemon juice, salt, pepper, and onion. Make sure to toast the caraway seeds in the pan to amp up the flavors and remove from the heat when browned, stirring in the lemon juice at the last minute before serving. Get the recipe here.