I’m always looking for new ways to use an ingredient that is usually overlooked.
Fennel bulbs are one of those ingredients that I love because they are crunchy, flavorful, and can be used in a variety of dishes. What’s even better about them is the fact that fennel bulbs have many uses outside of cooking!
In this article, I’ll be sharing 9 great fennel bulb substitutes you should know about if you ever run out or don’t want to buy more.
Dill, Celery, Bok Choy, Hoja Santa Leaves (Mexican Bay Leaves), Parsley, Leeks, Mild Onion, Mexican Avocado Leaves, and Artichoke Hearts – all of these are some of the best substitutes for fennel bulb you can use.
Remember, they won’t be exactly the same but they are all great alternatives that will work well in your recipes.
- What is Fennel Bulb?
- 9 Best Fennel Bulb Substitutes
- What Does Fennel Bulb Taste Like?
- What Is the Difference Between Fennel and Sweet Fennel?
- Is Fennel Related to Onions?
- Tips for Buying and Storing Fennel Bulb
- What Spices Go Well With Fennel?
- Final Words
What is Fennel Bulb?
Fennel bulb is part of the fennel plant, which is related to dill and parsley.
The fennel bulb itself is an oblong-shaped vegetable that has a green top and white stalks underneath. It also has small leaves all around it that resemble dill or celery greens.
What’s great about the fennel bulb is that it has a strong but sweet taste, which makes it great for cooking. It’s also versatile because you can use the bulb in sauces or soups or even eat it raw in salads.
The bulbs are most commonly used raw or cooked since the raw gives the bulb a slightly sweet taste and crunchy texture.
Many people do not like the taste of fennel bulbs but some recipes call for this specific ingredient. If you fall into this category, then don’t worry! Here are 9 great substitutes you can use instead of a fennel bulb.
9 Best Fennel Bulb Substitutes
Dill is part of the same family as fennel and has a very similar taste, texture, and appearance. Both plants have green leaves that grow in small clusters around a white or yellowish plant stem base.
If you can’t find or don’t want to buy fennel bulbs, then try using dill as a substitute instead. Just like the fennel bulb, dill has a similar taste and smell which makes it another great substitute to try out.
If you’ve never tasted dill before, it’s a great herb to try as well. Dill also goes well with fish, chicken, lamb, salads, soups, and more.
You can substitute dill for fennel in equal parts, and it will work just fine.
Celery is another common and easy-to-find ingredient and texture is probably the closest vegetable to fennel in terms of taste, appearance, and texture.
Both celery and fennel bulbs are bright green with stalks that look like white pencils covered in small leaves on top.
The flavor of both ingredients is very similar as well since they have a strong but sweet taste. It’s crunchy like the fennel but has a more earthy flavor instead.
You can use celery as a close substitute for fennel bulbs in your dishes, just like you would if you were using dill or parsley.
This substitute works especially well when cooking hearty soups, stews, and casseroles because the taste of celery is more subtle.
3. Bok Choy
Bok Choy is a traditional Chinese vegetable that looks just like a fennel bulb – except much smaller. The leaves of Bok Choy are much denser and smaller than the fennel, but they have a similar taste and texture.
If you can’t find or don’t want to buy fennel bulbs, then you can use Bok Choy as a great substitute to try out in your dishes.
If you’ve never used bok choy before, it is also another very healthy addition that has great nutritional value. You can cook the vegetable, eat it raw in salads, or sautéed with other ingredients like tofu and chicken.
The taste of bok choy is also similar to the fennel bulb but it is not as strong.
4. Hoja Santa Leaves
Hoja santa leaves, also known as Mexican bay leaves, are dark green with small little hairs that line the edges of each leaf. The leaves themselves are green with white veins running through them, unlike the fennel which is all white or yellow-white.
The main difference between these two ingredients is the smell; however, both of them have a strong and very specific taste.
Hoja santa leaves are commonly used in Mexican cooking, especially when making tamales or stews. You can also use the hoja santa leaves instead of fennel bulbs to make sauces and fish dishes since they taste very similar.
You can use hoja santa leaves as a substitute for fennel in equal parts for your recipes.
Parsley is an herb that looks very similar to fennel with its curly, green leaves all growing from a brown stem base.
The only difference between parsley and fennel is the smell – parsley has a much stronger scent than fennel does. The taste of parsley is also very strong and not as sweet as fennel, so it’s a great addition to any dish that you’re making.
Parsley goes well with many dishes such as soups, stews, salads, pasta, and more.
6. Mild Onion
Mild onions are another vegetable that has a similar taste to fennel, but they can be much stronger.
The only difference between the two ingredients is the smell and taste; both of them have a slightly sweet and distinct flavor to them. Unlike leeks, mild onions have a much stronger taste and smell because their flavor is also much stronger as well.
You can use mild onions as a substitute for fennel bulbs in dishes such as stews and main courses that call for other strong vegetables like carrots and potatoes.
Leeks are a vegetable that is similar to fennel with their white and green plant stem base. The leaves of leeks also grow in small clusters around the plant stem base, which makes it look very similar to parsley as well.
However, these two vegetables do have some differences – leeks are much bigger than parsley and the leaves are much broader. The stem base is also much thicker, which means that it can easily be used to substitute for fennel bulbs.
Leeks are commonly eaten by themselves or in soups since they have a very mild taste similar to celery, but not as strong.
8. Mexican Avocado Leaves
Mexican avocado leaves are a common spice used in Mexican cooking. The leaves of the avocado plant are dried and then grounded up until they turn into a dark green powder.
Mexican avocado leaves have a very strong scent to them, but their taste is similar to fennel so it’s easy to use as a substitute as well.
You can use this seasoning in many Mexican dishes, especially for making guacamole or tortillas.
9. Artichoke Hearts
Artichoke hearts are another vegetable that looks very similar to the fennel bulb with its pale green color and jagged edges.
Although both vegetables look similar, they do have their differences in smell and taste. Artichoke hearts are slightly milder than fennel but it’s not as sweet either.
You can use artichoke hearts as an alternative to fennel bulbs in your recipes, but it will require more vegetables than what is required for fennel bulbs.
What Does Fennel Bulb Taste Like?
Fennel bulbs don’t actually taste like anise or licorice, and it’s very different from the fennel seed you might be accustomed to using.
The white bulb of the plant is usually diced and cooked with vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, but the base of the stem is also edible if not cooked.
The flavor of fennel bulbs is very strong and slightly sweet. It’s a little bit less intense than anise, but it still has that familiar taste which is why it’s often used in many Italian dishes such as sausage and shrimp scampi recipes.
What Is the Difference Between Fennel and Sweet Fennel?
Fennel is a plant with long green stems, feathery leaves, and small yellow flowers. Sliced bulbs of the fennel plant are often used as a vegetable because it tastes similar to anise or licorice.
Sweet fennel, however, has a much stronger taste than regular fennel – think of it as a cross between anise and licorice.
The bulb of the sweet fennel plant is much bigger than regular fennel, but it still has that same strong taste with a hint of sweetness to it.
Is Fennel Related to Onions?
Yes, fennel is related to onions. Onions are also in the allium family with garlic and shallots. Even though they’re all in the same family, they do have different tastes from one another.
On top of that, regular fennel bulbs taste nothing like regular onions – their flavors can’t be substituted for each other since they’re completely different.
Onions have a strong, pungent flavor while fennel has a milder taste with a touch of sweetness to it.
Tips for Buying and Storing Fennel Bulb
When you buy fennel bulbs, make sure to pick out the ones that are firm and don’t have any brown spots or bruises on them.
Fennel will keep well in your refrigerator for about a week if wrapped tightly in plastic. You can also chop up the leaves of the fennel or save them to use as a garnish later on.
What Spices Go Well With Fennel?
Fennel goes well with a wide variety of spices. Fennel seeds, for instance, pair perfectly with the strong taste of fennel bulbs.
You can also use dried anise seeds or even star anise to go along with the fennel bulb as well. If you’re looking for something with a milder taste, fennel bulbs will go well with cardamom, nutmeg, or even cinnamon.
The 9 funnel bulb substitutes I have listed should help you in the case of fennel bulbs being unavailable or too expensive where you live. Hope this article was helpful.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.