5 Ways to Enjoy: Wild Fennel Pollen

5 Ways to Enjoy: Wild Fennel Pollen


Enjoying wild fennel pollen on Lemon Gelato from the Creamery. How to enjoy wild fennel pollen.

Pollen So Good You’d Befriend a Bee to Get More

Fennel pollen is that special, though luckily there’s no need to pal around with pollinators to try it, you can buy it by the jar! It’s one of my favorites to reach for in my spice drawer, so I’m spreading the word about what makes it so exceptional.

Dubbed “culinary fairy dust” by our friends at Zingerman’s Mail Order, fennel pollen is exactly what it sounds like, pollen from the flowers of a fennel plant. Often grown for its bulb, fennel is somewhat unique in that you can consume the entire plant—the bulb, the stalk, the fronds, the seeds, and the pollen. 

If you were growing fennel in your garden in hopes of procuring homegrown pollen, instead of harvesting the bulb, you’d let the plant keep growing until it flowers, pick the umbels (the flower clusters), dry them, and collect the pollen. Speaking from personal experience, that is indeed as labor-intensive as it sounds, which explains the relatively high price of this special spice. (Fennel pollen’s BFF in the Most Arduous Spices to Obtain Club might be saffron. The vivid reddish-orange stigma from the saffron crocus has to be harvested by hand—and there are only three stigmata in each flower!) 

Given that fennel seeds (which are derived from cultivated fennel) cost [a quarter the price of fennel pollen], we wondered if the wild pollen could be worth the splurge. When we compared the two… we understood the hype: The delicate crunch of these golden granules and their remarkably complex flavor featuring hints of licorice and citrus and a honeyed, marshmallow-like sweetness overshadowed the fibrous texture and one-note licorice taste of the seeds. —Cook’s Illustrated

It is also perhaps part of the reason why, up until a couple of decades ago, wild fennel pollen was relatively unknown here in the States, unlike in Italy, where wild fennel is rampant. We have Dario Cecchini, an eight-generation Italian butcher in Tuscany, to thank for helping to popularize fennel pollen (head to Mail Order’s blog, The Feed, for the full story.), making it easier for more of us to enjoy it.

Fennel pollen can add that mysterious and sweet herbaceous flavor that transports you to a small town in Tuscany, just with a flick of your fingers. —Ji Hye Kim, Chef and Managing Partner of Miss Kim

Fennel is often confused with anise, and while they are entirely different plants, it is the closest flavor comparison for what fennel and fennel pollen taste like. Fennel pollen does have a slightly sweet, anise-like flavor (don’t be deterred, licorice haters, it’s milder than you might expect) and it’s very fragrant. Val Neff-Rasmussen, Product Buyer for Mail Order says, “It tastes like fennel seed, but lighter, more ethereal.” 


Picture of the Wild Fennel Pollen being enjoyed on the Lemon sorbet gelato.

5 of Our Favorite Ways to Use Fennel Pollen

  • Make a Stand-out Main Dish

Fennel pollen plays well with different meats and fishes, but it’s an especially flavorful partner for pork. In fact, one of Zingerman’s Catering & Events many specialties is a Fennel Pollen Pork Shoulder rubbed with sea salt, fresh herbs, fennel pollen, and olive oil. Order theirs, or play around with your own blend.

Used a little of the [Wild Fennel Pollen] to season my whole roast chicken and it took the flavor and aromatics to a whole new level! This truly is a magic spice that makes anything you put it on so much more wonderful! Where has this been all my life?!? -Alicia C, Zingerman’s guest and pollen promoter 

  • Create a Flavored Salt 

Make your own fennel pollen salt and then use it with abandon. If you’ve yet to delve into DIY flavored salts, start with 1 teaspoon per 1/4 cup of coarse, flaky salt, and then adjust to taste as you see fit. Sprinkle your new favorite salt over roasted veggies. Dip tempura vegetables in it. Use it to rim a glass (Bloody Marys?!). Dust it over sauteéd mushrooms or fried eggs. 

  • Try It with Tomatoes

Whether sprinkled over tomato soup or sliced tomatoes fresh off the vine, tomatoes and fennel pollen are a culinary match made in heaven. Food writer Max Falkowitz says fennel pollen “tastes like pure summer joy,” so you know it’ll play well with other seasonal produce, too.

  • Pair Pollen with Fresh Cheeses

Like cream cheese or fresh goat cheese from Zingerman’s Creamery. For an easy appetizer, spread some fresh soft cheese on your vehicle of choice—a crostini, a cracker, a cucumber slice—sprinkle with fennel pollen, and enjoy

  • Sprinkle It on Sweets

This is, admittedly, perhaps a bit more unexpected, but stay with me! Try sprinkling fennel pollen on vanilla ice cream or gelato. (Or on fennel ice cream! If you need a recipe, you can find one in my cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.) Or even yogurt along with a drizzle of honey. Try making fennel pollen sugar (start with the same suggested ratio for flavored salt, above, just swap in sugar). Fennel pollen pairs well with chocolate, too; sprinkle some on a batch of truffles or chocolate mousse. After all, Zingerman’s Deli and Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory often carry chocolate bars with fennel seed (See Exhibits A, B, and C), so fennel pollen is just another step in that flavorful direction.

Ready to see what the buzz is all about? Get a jar of Wild Tuscan Fennel Pollen at Zingerman’s Deli or have one shipped to your doorstep from Zingerman’s Mail Order.

Jar of Wild Fennel Pollen Spice