Dill and fennel often get confused for one another. They seem similar in appearance, but they are in fact two different plants used for different purposes and each possess unique characteristics that directly affect the nature of the dishes that they are used in.
Although seemingly similar, dill (on the left) and fennel (on the right) are two different plants used for different purposes. The following differences help identify the two for their unique qualities and properties.
- the dill plant’s leaves and seeds are used for consumption. In the fennel plant, the leaves, the seed and even the bulb is used for culinary and medical purposes.
- Fennel leaves are longer than dill leaves and taste distinctly different. However, both are used in cooking and garnishing purposes.
- Fennel features a distinct black liquorice taste that is absent in dill.
- dill has therapeutic effects on the digestive system, controls infection, and has a diuretic effect.
- Fennel increases milk flow, relaxes spasms, and reduces inflammation.
Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called “dill weed” to distinguish it from dill seed) are widely used as herbs in Europe and central Asia. The fernlike leaves of dill are aromatic and are used to flavor many foods such as gravlax (cured salmon) and other fish dishes, borscht and other soups, as well as pickles (where the dill flower is sometimes used). Dill is best when used fresh as it loses its flavor rapidly if dried; however, freeze-dried dill leaves retain their flavor relatively well for a few months. Dill seed, having a flavor similar to caraway seeds is used as a spice. Dill oil is extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. Dill is the eponymous ingredient in dill pickles: cucumbers preserved in salty brine and/or vinegar.
Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a tall, wispy, fronded top that looks rather like dill. The fronds can be used in salads, but the main attraction of fennel is the bulb itself. It’s very firm and crunchy, and it tastes a bit like licorice and anise. It has a fresh, bright taste and it’s great to use in salads. It can also be grilled or braised until tender. Fennel is part of the carrot family. It is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses and, along with the similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Although Absinthe is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a liqueur, absinthe is not traditionally bottled with added sugar; it is therefore classified as a spirit.