fennel syrup

I have a fennel problem.

Well, Danny refers to it as a problem. I think it’s perfectly fine that from December through June I would like to eat something with fennel in it every single day.

Can you blame me?

Chopped fennel has the crisp crash against the teeth of celery, without the bland watery taste or the strings that catch between your teeth. It has the faint reminder of black jelly beans or the candies from Mike and Ikes I always left stuck at the bottom of the box. Too much licorice taste leaves my tongue cringing in my mouth. A little from fennel? It feels refreshing.

Honestly, I don’t need much from my fennel. Thin slices on the mandoline, a little lemony vinaigrette, perhaps a few flicks of fresh goat cheese on top, and some Maldon salt crunched onto it all. (Hm. I’m having that for lunch again today, I realize.)

caramelized fennel and olives

Fennel also caramelizes beautifully. A little heat, a little time, and there are caramel-brown marks on that once-white bulb. The curvy sway of the fennel curled against the pan here?

Oh, I’m hungry.

halibut and fennel shot

Last week, Danny made a recipe from our friend Jess Thomson‘s new book, Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle’s Famous Market. It’s a wonderful rush of a book, filled with photographs of that dazzling mundane place. Lucy always stares with wide eyes when we go to the Market. And then she talks about it for days afterward. It has become a bit of a cliche of Seattle, the stand at the front where men in rubber pants throw fish over tourists’ heads. That’s the thing — that stand is for the tourists. But walk into the darker corners, the stalls farther away, and you’re going to find food from every part of the world. We avoid the place in summer, when the throngs are really there to take photos of Lowell’s, because Tom Hanks ate a piece of tiramisu there in Sleepless in Seattle. But every other time of the year, especially when it’s fennel season in this house, Pike Place Market is about the best, most meandering grocery store you can imagine.

Jess gathered ingredients and recipes from nearly every purveyor in the place and turned those random scribblings into something great. “The Pike Place Market inspires good eating” reads the back cover. That was certainly true in this house. Danny and I flipped through the book and wanted to make nearly everything — wild mushroom tagliatelle! Spanish chickpea and chorizo stew! deviled duck eggs with green olives, smoked paprika, and fried capers! — but my stomach that day had only one dish in mind. Halibut with caramelized fennel and olives.

Halibut had just come into season. All three of us in this house love olives with briny abandon. And the entire dish seemed quick enough to make for a hungry kiddo. But really, it was that fennel.

We piled it all on one plate. Each of us darted forks over the plate until it was gone. Lucy was happy.

Ah, that fennel.

fennel fronds

But for years, I’ve had a little guilt in me. What to do with the fennel fronds?

Sometimes I chop them up fine and toss them into salads. However, most of the time, I have thrown them away. Goodbye to all that leafy greenness. Sorry.

Now, no more.

Last week, the wonderful Heidi of 101 Cookbooks posted a recipe for rhubarb syrup with rosewater. We didn’t have rosewater but we had orange flower water. After we visited the farmers’ market, I had arms full of long rhubarb stalks, like an awkward bouquet of spring. Jasper, one of our favorite farmers, was selling bunches of baby fennel. Duh. We bought those too.

When we were home, I diced up the rhubarb to mix it with sugar and let it sit. The baby fennel sat on the countertop, the fronds mocking me. What to do with these particularly lush, just-pulled-from the ground fennel fronds? I chopped them up and tossed them with sugar, just to see what would happen. Since fennel fronds don’t have much juice, I let it sit overnight. The next morning, I covered them with water, tossed in a star anise, and simmered it all to a syrup.

Holy cow, yes.

This syrup is fennel, condensed. It’s sweet and refreshing and destined for thick yogurt in the morning. I think it would be lovely on top of ice cream. I don’t drink much alcohol these days, but I’m sure this would make a great cocktail.

One more way to enjoy fennel?

This is the kind of problem I like to have.

fennel syrup


The measurements here are entirely by feel. When I made it first, I simply chopped up the fronds we had from a bunch of baby fennel, poured some sugar on top until the fronds were lightly coated, and let it sit. Baking requires precision. This is more intuition. But I’ve given you some rough estimates of measurements if you need a start. 

You could try to rush this, but why? Let it all sit overnight. It mingles together while you sleep. 

We’ve been mixing this with fizzy water for a refreshing spring drink. I’m sure you can think of plenty of other ways to use it too. 

3 cups chopped fennel fronds
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
1 star anise

Coating the fennel fronds. Put the fennel fronds in a large bowl. Pour the sugar evenly over the top. When the sugar lightly coats the fennel fronds with plenty of green bits sticking up, you have enough sugar. Coat the fennel fronds with the sugar by tossing it all with your hands. Set the bowl aside and let the fennel and sugar mingle overnight.

Steeping the fennel. In the morning, toss the fennel fronds and sugar together again. Pour in enough water to just cover the fennel. Let this sit for 1 hour.

Making the syrup. Pour the sugary fennel water into a pot. Add the star anise. Set the pot over medium-high heat. Bring the water to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down to medium. Allow the fennel, sugar, star anise, and water to simmer until the water has reduced and thickened, about 15 to 25 minutes. When the syrup feels thick enough to you, pour the contents of the pot through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl waiting below. Allow the syrup to cool.

Makes about 1 pint.


31 comments on “fennel syrup

  1. Wendy

    I make rhubarb egg creams with rhubarb syrup, club soda, and cream; I bet fennel egg creams would be good, too.

  2. Hannah

    I’m a fennel fanatic, too! A few years, I was making so many fennel dishes that my family threatened mutiny and our exchange student made me promise not to make anything else with fennel until she’d gone home to Norway…not even the fennel cake recipe I’d just discovered. Hmpf. I restrain myself a bit more now with fennel, so we’re due for some. Your syrup sounds divine! I just made Heidi’s rhubarb syrup yesterday (left out the rosewater) and now I’ll make fennel. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Reformed Foodie

    I’m with you – I LOVE fennel. The flavor is distinct yet surprisingly versatile. I recently roasted some fennel (with eggplant and tomatoes) to top a focaccia – amazing! I’ll be giving this syrup a try very soon:) Thx!

  4. Mary Fran | FrannyCakes

    Never thought of fennel syrup…but I have a bubbly water and home made soda obsession lately. Weekend project it is!

    There you go making me hungry in the middle of the afternoon again.

  5. roberta

    you can make a wonderful pesto with fennel fronds as a substitute for basil (I use to boil it a few minutes to have a creamier pesto, but it’s not necessary) – give it a try, it’s so fresh and aromatic!

  6. Anke

    Maybe you should try to make a panna cotta with the fennel syrup?

    I like your addiction 🙂



  7. Dee

    My gosh, this looks so interesting. Very innovative! I just recently found out I am sensitive to gluten, so I am exploring lots of gluten free blogs! I just started my own blog too! I hope to get to know the gluten free blogging community well 🙂

  8. Laura

    Sound delicious! And somehow the flavor of oranges popped into my mind. Maybe some cur up oranges or peel with the mix?

  9. Kathy

    Fennel pesto! I’m on it.
    Consider using the fonds as a “rack” under roasted or braised lamb. Might be good with fish such as salmon baked in parchment.

  10. Pat

    Oh, you should get a rhubarb plant for your house! So easy, so low-maintenance, and it comes up so early. Even here in Alaska, it was coming up through the last of the snow, and will be ready to eat in a couple weeks. We eat a lot of rhubarb, but fennel, not so much. I have made a fennel apple slaw which got good reviews.

  11. Brooke @ Food Woolf

    Thank goodness for this recipe. I can’t tell you how long those fronds have been taunting me as well. Good to know I suddenly can let go of all that guilt and get to syrup making! Yipee!

  12. Jenn Sutherland

    Shauna, your brilliance is unmatched! This recipe makes me SO happy! We eat fennel all winter long – a thinly shaved fennel salad with wisps of apple and an orange vinaigrette is one of my favorite dishes…I’ve always saved the stalks in the freezer for making stocks, but no more! Fennel syrup is on the menu this weekend!

  13. catherine n

    I use fennel fronds under fish, when I roast it…. You can also use them like dill/with dill in a salad.

  14. Christine

    I have tons of fennel growing in my garden and the only thing I’ve done with the fronds is chop them up and throw them into salads, or use as a garnish. Now there’s this awesome syrup? I’m off to harvest fennel tops right now!
    Btw: just got your book and am thoroughly enjoying it.

  15. Kelly

    Great post. Can we get the recipe for the caramelized fennel and olives pictured above. Looks delicious!! And unrelated — what the hell is up with those epicurious blog haters. Yeesh.

  16. madonnadelpiatto

    I am also a fennel lover! And our hill is covered in wild fennel. I was already anticipating making fennel liqueur with fennel flowers (just like limoncello, but using the flowers instead of lemon zest). I think I might make a jelly with your fennel syrup, then one can spread it on bread or cheese.

    BTW you can use fennel fronds to flavor grilled sausages or to stuff pork or even roast chicken.

  17. Meagan

    This caramelized fennel looks AMAZING. Fennel is one of those vegetable I didn’t grow up with, and have been hesitant to experiment with, but after reading this, I am certain I will have to try it out in the next couple of weeks!! Thanks for posting your <3 of fennel! 🙂

  18. Kate @ eatrecyclerepeat

    Have you read an Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler? It is quickly becoming my favorite book. In it she suggests using any remaining fennel scraps and adding them to bean broth when making beans. Genius! I highly highly recommend this book. It’s great for new cooks and experienced chefs, and the writing is just beautiful. I’d think you would really like that too, Shauna!

  19. Mrs Sparkles

    The “logical” next step with a syrup? Sorbet!

    I’ve been meaning to try using the stalks in a candied fennel recipe, having encountered it on a restaurant dish.

    Unfortunately the last bunch I saved didn’t make it that far, succumbing instead to a galette of braised beet tops with ginger (ground and finely chopped stem ginger in syrup) and fennel, dotted with marinated goats fetta and lemon thyme. Delicious!

Comments are closed