Caraway Seeds Vs. Fennel Seeds: SPICEography Showdown

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If you plan to make pork sausages or certain cabbage dishes, you will need either caraway seeds or fennel seeds. These two spices can easily be mistaken for each other as they share many qualities; however, they are completely different ingredients that will bring different qualities to your dishes. When choosing between them, you will need to consider how they differ as well as the best ways to use each of them. We will examine these factors below in another SPICEography Showdown.

How do the flavors of caraway seeds and fennel seeds differ?

Both caraway and fennel seeds belong to the same family, which means that they are very similar appearance while also having flavor notes in common. Those flavor notes are often likened to those of anise or of licorice, which also belong to the same family as caraway and fennel seeds. While being similar, the plants are quite different and their flavors are not identical.

The caraway seed’s flavor is best described as being earthy, nutty, and herbaceous with slightly minty notes to go with its licorice notes. Its flavor is not quite as sweet as that of fennel seed; instead, it has more in common with another important member of this spice family: cumin. The flavor of fennel seeds is both warmer in addition to being a closer match for those of licorice or anise. It does not have the earthiness or nuttiness.

Can you use one as a substitute for the other?

There are quite a few recipes that can be made with either spice. Some bread recipes and recipes for sausages require the same general flavor profile that you can get from each spice or even from a combination of the two. That said, they are not perfectly interchangeable. Many recipes will require one or the other.

Fennel seeds may be overly sweet for some breads, though they may be a good substitute for caraway seeds in pork dishes. While they may be an effective substitute, they will not be perfect. Similarly, caraway seeds lack the sweetness and specific anise flavor that you may want from fennel seeds. Caraway seeds may not be the ideal substitute for some fennel seed applications, though they will likely be close enough to replace fennel seeds in a pinch. Caraway seeds are not suitable for most sweet dishes that require fennel seeds.

When should you use caraway seeds and when should you use fennel seeds?

Because of their nuttiness and earthiness, caraway seeds are better suited for savory applications like rye bread and pork preparations such as sausages. Note that caraway seeds can be used in some sweet dishes, just not as many as fennel. If you are unfamiliar with the spice, your best bet is to use caraway seeds when you are making potato salad or coleslaw; in addition, they are a great complement to sauerkraut.

Keep in mind that caraway seeds do not seem to pair well with many other herbs and spices aside from those within their family. They work well with dill, cumin, and fennel seed. You can also add them to dishes that feature tomatoes or even to fish dishes like poached fish. Fennel seeds can be used to many of the same dishes, but may also be used in desserts. They are an important ingredient in Chinese five spice powder. Along with being used to flavor fish and pork, you can use fennel seeds in cakes and cookies.