The folks at famed Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, refer to fennel polen as, “Fairy dust for food lovers — it makes food sparkle with flavor.” They further confess, “Wow. In twenty years of cooking and traveling, I’ve never tasted anything else remotely like this. It’s exhilarating—intoxicating even. When I’m having a rough day I just open the jar and stick my nose inside. Its aroma is sweet and pungent, smelling intensely of everything great about fennel and then some. Sometimes I’m surprised it’s legal.” They describe the golden bits of pollen, “It looks like fluffy sand, colored yellow by the sun.”
Fennel Pollen’s elusive taste always comes into play. The folks at Spice House, Chicago, say, “The fennel pollen’s flavor is incredible–like taking the fennel seed, sweetening it and then intensifying it a hundred times.”
It’s sweetness and pungency turns any average dish into a “supreme cuisine.” The flavor of it is similar to fennel seed only more intense. Just a dash of pollen can transform an average dish into supreme cuisine. At Pollen Ranch, Lemon Cove, CA, state, “Our fennel pollen spice is trans-formative and can disguise itself as curry, anise, licorice, and even saffron.”
Fennel and its pollen is native to the Mediterranean and subsequently grown in India, China and the U.S. Introduced by Italian immigrants, fennel grows wild in California, and pollen from there is considered high quality.
The use of fennel pollen is reported to have come to North American attention through a foodwriter who lived in Italy for many years. In 1990, she introduced Mario Batali and a few other chefs to it in a little Italian butcher shop. They were impressed and happy to start using it. “You sprinkle a tiny dusting on something hot, and it gives you this heady fennel perfume,” Batali explains. “It’s amazing.” They immediately added fennel pollen enhanced foods to their menus.
The harvesting of fennel pollen is labor-intensive, and like saffron, this means even a tiny amount is expensive. There seems no method to speed up the gathering process. Every flower yields only about a quarter teaspoon. Harvesting the pollen isn’t that difficult – it’s the drying that is tedious requiring a deft touch one only learns through years of experience.
As special and rare as it is, wild fennel pollen is surprisingly easy to use—mix it with a touch of sea salt and black pepper and sprinkle it. (allow a pinch of pollen per serving).
Compliments firm fleshed fish, potatoes, roasted vegetables
Highlights wonderfully with pork, mussels, seafood, poultry and firm-fleshed fish.
Accents vegetables, soups and sauces.
It not only enhances savory dishes, it is a wonderful addition to muffins, stone fruit pies, cookies, biscuits, breads and dark chocolate.