The Florence fennel (F. vulgare Azoricum Group) is a selection with inflated leaf bases which form a sort of bulb. It has a mild aniseed-like flavour, but is more aromatic and sweeter. Its flavour comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in aniseed and star anise. Florence fennel is smaller than the wild type and has inflated leaf bases which are eaten as a vegetable, both raw and cooked. There are several cultivars of Florence fennel, which is also known by several other names, notably the Italian name finocchio.
Fennel has become naturalised along roadsides, in pastures, and other open sites in many regions, including northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada and in much of Asia and Australia. It is propagated by seed, and is considered to be a weed in Australia and the United States.
Both the bulb and seeds of the fennel plant have secure places in the culinary traditions of the world. Many egg, fish, and other dishes use fennel bulbs. Fennel can be eaten raw and is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, One may also blanch and/or marinate the bulb, or cook them in risotto. In all cases, fennel bulbs lend their characteristically mild, anise-like flavour. Dried fennel seedshave an aromatic, aniseed-flavour; brown or green in colour, they slowly turn a dull grey as the seed ages (for cooking, green seeds are optimal).
Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with aniseed, which is very similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Indians often chew fennel seed (or saunf) as a mouth-freshener. Fennel is also used as a flavouring in some natural toothpastes.
Many cultures in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East incorporate fennel seed into their culinary traditions. It is an essential ingredient in the Bengali spice mixture Panch phoron and in Chinese five spice powders. It is known as saunf or moti saunf in Hindi & Urdu, mouri in Bengali, and shombu in the Tamil language.