Fennel Vs. Dill: SPICEography Showdown

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Dill and fennel are culinary herbs from the Apiaceae family that have many applications. The fact that they belong to the same family may make them seem like excellent alternatives for each other or at least better ones than they are. The truth is dill and fennel have quite a few differences. Learn about them in the SPICEography Showdown below.

How does fennel differ from dill?

The most important property of a culinary herb is its flavor. The flavor is also the area where dill and fennel differ most. Dill has a flavor that many would describe as green or herbaceous while fennel has a strong anise- or licorice-like flavor. While some people can detect faint licorice notes in dill, this flavor is not among its most notable characteristics. 

Both dill and fennel do have some features in common if you look at them side by side, They both have the same feathery fronds and the same emerald green color. It is easy to see that they are related; however, dill is much finer and more delicate than fennel. Fennel has thicker fronds and stalks. The stalks can be fibrous and similar in thickness and texture to celery. 

Dill’s main use is mainly as a culinary herb to provide flavor and that you add as a garnish; fennel is used for its seasoning ability, as a garnish and is bulky enough to work as a vegetable.

Can you use fennel in place of dill and vice versa?

The key to how one ingredient replaces another is how closely the flavors match. You want your substitute to provide a flavor that is like the ingredient it is replacing. Dill and fennel have such different flavor profiles that you should not use one in place of the other and expect similar results.

The lemony and herbaceous notes of dill along with its lack of a strong licorice flavor means that it will not do a good job of standing in for fennel’s flavor. Similarly, the anise-like licorice notes of fennel will do not do a good job of replicating dill’s relatively subtle flavor and aroma. All that said, you can switch these herbs out in many recipes and still wind up with an enjoyable dish, but it won’t taste as it should.

Dill and fennel flavor profiles tend to work well alongside the same ingredients despite being very different. There are some notable exceptions; fennel is not a good substitute for dill in applications like flavored cream cheese or in pickles. 

If you are looking for an appealing garnish and don‘t care about flavor, dill and fennel can work as substitutes for each other since they look so much alike. Chop the fronds and sprinkle them onto the dish. 

When should you use fennel and when should you use dill?

Use dill in pickles and with seafood like salmon or Scandinavian gravlax. It is also a great addition to potato salad and coleslaw. It pairs well with creamy ingredients like mayonnaise and can be a great addition to cream cheese and sour cream.

Fennel is great in seafood as well — you can stuff a whole salmon or a sea bass with it. Other ways to use fennel include as a salad green and in stews, in the same ways you would use celery. Fennel is a common ingredient in the popular seafood soup known as cioppino.