When a recipe calls for caraway seeds or fennel seeds it is important to know if we can substitute one for the other. Also it’s good to know what each ingredient is adding to your recipe.
In appearance caraway seed and fennel seed seem quite similar, elongated with ridges running lengthways from one end to the other. Both seeds belong to the same plant family and share an anise or licorice flavor. Caraway also has notes of nuttiness and an earthy sort of muskiness added that is missing from fennel.
Fennel seeds are slightly more green in color and caraway are more of a light brown. There is a little more to it than this though as when we cook with fennel we are looking for different notes than when we cook with caraway seeds.
Differences Between Fennel Seeds & Caraway Seeds
There are a few main differences between these two similar spices and how we use them. Enough to make it worth looking at more closely.
Fennel seeds are sweeter in flavor as they have solely an anise or licorice flavor. Caraway seeds contain a more savory taste profile with nutty and earthy tones. When toasted I think they are musky and herbaceous. Making caraway seeds suitable for savory dishes, like breads or chickpea side dishes.
This leads to the question about whether we can replace caraway seeds with fennel and vice versa. Really if we are using fennel in a savory dish a simple like for like replacement is perfect, in a sweeter dish perhaps we need to add a few other options, see here for more ideas.
Health Benefits Of Caraway Seeds Vs Fennel Seeds
The following chart is based on 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds and 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds. This is approximately 2g of each and realistically the sort of portion size you will be looking at to get any real flvaor.
|Caraway Seed||Fennel Seed|
|Calcium 14.47mg 1 %||Calcium 23.92mg 2 %|
|Iron 0.34mg 2 %||Iron 0.37mg 2 %|
|Potassium 28mg 1 %||Potassium 28mg 1 %|
|Riboflavin 0.008 mg 1 %||Riboflavin 0.007 mg 1 %|
|Thiamin 0.008 mg 1 %||Thiamin0.008 mg 1 %|
|Vitamin B6 0.008 mg 1 %||Vitamin B6 0.009 mg 1 %|
|Manganese 0.027 mg 1 %||Manganese 0.131 mg 6 %|
So as you can see caraway and fennel seed both have very similar vitamin and mineral content. With good values for iron, calcium and potassium. The real stand out is the amount of manganese present in fennel seeds. 1 teaspoon of either of these spices will help aid your healthy diet.
Do bear in mind that once we cook some seeds the nutritional content may well change. However including them in your diet is not going to negatively impact you in any way for sure! So why not include plenty in your diet on a more regular basis?
Replacements For Caraway Seeds
There is no one perfect replacement for caraway seeds but fennel seeds or cumin seeds do work well. Fresh dill is a gentle anise replacement as is chervil. Star anise and licorice are a much more intense replacement for caraway and add to them a bit of coriander and you are doing well.
1. Fennel Seeds
Like for like fennel seeds are one of the best replacements for caraway as they are from the carrot family and really do share a large percentage of their taste profile. Fennel has a stronger anise flavor though so maybe dial it back a bit and use 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds = 3/4 teaspoon of fennel seed.
2. Cumin Seeds
Cumin seed share a lot of the nuttiness and earthiness of caraway and make a great replacement. For an ideal replacement try mixing cumin and fennel seeds. 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds = 1 teaspoon fennel seed + 1 teaspoon of cumin seed.
When used fresh as a garnish, dill makes a great addition to a dish that would have had caraway in. Not a perfect replacement for caraway as it doesn’t include the nuttiness or earthiness, however the fresh anise flavor is very much welcome. It is also not too strong in intensity.
4. Star Anise
Star anise seems a natural replacement for caraway seed due to it’s anise flavor. However it can be overpowering and will need to be used carefully. Remove the star anise before serving and make sure to also add something like cumin to give that much needed nuttiness from caraway seed.
5. Chinese 5 Spice
Chinese five spice is a good replacement for caraway as it contains star anise and fennel and will more than give the much needed licorice type flavor. However use it sparingly. 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds = 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice.
Licorice is a natural replacement to the anise like flavor of caraway seed, but it does not include the nuttiness or the musky type of notes. Use sparingly as licorice has a notably stronger flavor than caraway seeds.
7. Coriander Seed
Coriander seed is a reasonable replacement for caraway seed, only because it adds a little bit of flavor but not the first choice you would go for. It works well in breads and as a spice replacement in savory dishes.
8. Fresh Chervil
Using a fresh herb to replace a seed can sometimes work and in this case fresh chervil is a delicate enough anise flavor to replace caraway seeds nicely. use in sauces or as a fresh garnish to great effect. For more on chervil have a look here.
What Next & Further Reading
In conclusion, although caraway and fennel share a base level of licorice or anise flavor, fennel is much stronger and caraway also contains a nuttiness that has a real earthiness. Not perfect as replacements for each other but pretty good in a pinch.
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