Top Pick Of The Week

February 24, 2009

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Fennel Pollen

There’s a fennel pollen to bring magic to everything you cook. At front, Hog Heaven, for poultry, pork and veal, followed by Pollen Asian, for barbecuing, roasting, baking, steaming and stir-frying. Photo by Daniela Cuevas | THE NIBBLE.

WHAT IT IS: A spice that is actually pollen from the flower of the fennel plant—the same fennel that also has edible stalks and produces fennel seed.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Pollen Ranch, a division of the world’s largest collector of pollens, makes nine seasoned pollens in addition to natural, that are blended to pair with specific foods (beef, chicken, desserts, vegetables) and cuisines (Asian, Cajun/Creole). There’s also yummy dill pollen.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The aroma and flavor of fennel pollen and dill pollen are something special! Like saffron or any other wonderful spice, they make a dish memorable. Buy some for yourself and your favorite cooks.

Fennel Pollen: Spice Up Your Life With 10 Different Flavors

CAPSULE REPORT: Exciting flavor, lots of variety, zero calories, affordable price and nice gift packaging. What’s wrong with this picture?

Absolutely nothing, except that few people are familiar with fennel pollen. Top chefs discovered it a few years ago, but unless you’re an habitué of sleek restaurants or specialty food shops, you may not have stumbled upon it.

Hand collected from the flowers of wild fennel growing on the coastal and inland fields of California, the fennel pollen is available au naturel or enhanced by Pollen Ranch with other spices and herbs in nine blends that specifically complement the flavors of beef, pork, poultry, seafood, vegetables, even dessert. It’s a “secret ingredient” that will have guests begging for the secret.

So go ahead: Cook, grill, have fun sprinkling or rubbing fennel pollen on just about any savory dish in your repertoire—and some sweet ones, too. Use it as a dry rub on meats before roasting, sautéing or grilling. Sprinkle it atop fish drizzled with olive oil (we love it with salmon and seafood). Substitute it for saffron in rice, pasta or risotto dishes. Pair it with potatoes and steamed vegetables. Perk up roast chicken, lamb chops, pork chops, tortellini, red sauces, white sauces. You’ll be a culinary hero and the first in your crowd to reveal the scrumptious secret of fennel pollen. The plain fennel pollen and the exciting dill pollen are organic. Read the full review below.

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Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

Learn More About Herbs & Spices

Herbs & Spices The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices The Spice and Herb Bible
Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference, by Jill Norman (Editor). Flavor profiles of herbs and spices, with history, cooking techniques, recipes, herb blends and food pairings. Clear and colorful photos. Click here for more information or to purchase. The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices: Seasonings for the Global Kitchen, by Tony Hill. An enthusiastic reference of 350 spices and herbs, with 75 different recipes and 200 color photos. Click here for more information or to purchase. The Spice and Herb Bible, by Ian Hemphill and Kate Hemphill. At 608 pages, this hefty book is a most comprehensive guide, with page after page of colorful photographs. Click here for more information or to purchase.


Fennel Pollen: Spice Up Your Life With 10 Different Flavors


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Introduction To Fennel Pollen

Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is an extremely aromatic plant which has edible stalks, seeds and pollen. Belonging to the Umbellifereae family, the plant is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. The fennel plant grows wild in fairly warm climates, such as the sunny coastal and inland fields throughout California, where it can be easily recognized by its distinctive clusters of small tiny yellow flowers (which yield the pollen) and its licorice/anise-like aroma.

But the pollen tastes distinctively different from anise, fennel or fennel seed. Plain fennel pollen is sometimes described as faintly reminiscent of curry, honey and hay. It has a unique ingredient with a transformative taste and aroma that works well with almost any type of food.


Photo of the wild fennel plant by Will Elder, courtesy of the National Parks Service.

We love easy gourmet.  That’s why we’re obsessed with fennel pollen.  Here is a food with the kind of subtle complexity that’s usually reserved for dishes in the finest restaurants, an ingredient in the realm of truffles and saffron, and we have it at our fingertips—literally. With its sweet, vaguely licorice flavor and floral aroma, just a pinch elevates even the simplest dish into something memorable. 

For the past six years, California-based Pollen Ranch has been harvesting and selling fennel pollen. The labor-intensive process involves picking the flowers by hand, at their peak, laying them out to dry, sifting the flowers to remove pollen from the stems and freezing the pollen to help retain its freshness. (While fennel grows in many countries, the harvesting of its pollen is limited mostly to Western Europe and America; it’s especially popular in Italian cuisine.)

At first, the folks at Pollen Ranch supplied their product exclusively to chefs, restaurants and foodservice distributors; luckily, they’ve gone retail. They’ve also expanded their offerings. A couple years ago, they teamed up with San Diego chef Bernard Guillas, who developed a series of fennel pollen spice blends. He crafted each one specifically for fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, barbeque or Asian cooking, which makes them extra easy to use. More recently, Pollen Ranch started selling pollen from the dill plant, which can be used as easily as fennel pollen but has its own distinct (and wonderful) flavor profile.

Continue To Page 2: The Pollens & Blends

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