Saunf (Fennel Seeds) in Indian Cooking

Fennel seeds

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Saunf or Fennel seeds are the dried seeds of the Fennel plant. They are roughly 4 to 8 mm in length and look like a grooved or ridged grain of rice. Saunf comes in colors ranging from bright green to pale green and tan and has a licorice-like taste - sweeter and slightly less pungent and intense than licorice.

Buying It

Fennel seeds can be bought from most supermarkets and specialist herb or spice stores. All good Indian shops will stock them. While Saunf is available in colors ranging from bright green to pale green and tan, the freshest and best quality seeds are usually the bright green ones. 'Old' seeds will lose this fresh color over time. When buying Saunf, look for plump, unwrinkled seeds with a strong fennel fragrance. Store Saunf in a cool, dark place away from the sunlight in an airtight glass container as most spices last longer and retain their potency for a greater period of time if stored this way. Do not keep Saunf for longer than six months.

Using It

Saunf is used extensively in Indian cooking. While it is mostly used in seed form, some dishes do call for the seeds to be roasted and powdered. Some key Masalas (spice mixes) in Indian cooking, like Paanch Phoran Masala, have Saunf as one of their ingredients. Saunf is often used in Tadka or tempering of dishes and in pickles and chutneys. It is also considered a digestive and mouth freshener and chewed by many as an after dinner 'mint'. Saunf is also boiled and steeped in water, which is then strained and given to babies as a colic-reliever!

Interesting Facts

  • Fennel seeds are actually the fruit of the Fennel plant!
  • Fennel is often given to young mothers to increase lactation.
  • India is the world's #1 producer of Saunf.
  • Flies dislike fennel, so sprinkling some fennel powder in an area usually gets rid of them!