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The 7 Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds in Curry

Fennel seeds, with their unique licorice-like flavor, can add a distinctive touch to many dishes, especially curries.

Their aromatic and slightly sweet taste can elevate the flavor profile of any dish, making them a popular choice among chefs and home cooks alike.

But what if you can’t find fennel seeds in your pantry or at the grocery store?

What are the best substitutes for fennel seeds in curry? The best substitutes for fennel seeds include anise seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, dill seeds, licorice root, star anise, and celery seeds. Each of these alternatives can provide a similar taste and aroma to fennel seeds, ensuring that your curry remains flavorful and satisfying.

Faced with a fennel seed shortage, or simply looking to experiment with new flavors?

Fear not, as these substitutes will ensure your curry remains a crowd-pleaser!

Let’s dive in and explore these options further.

Why Use Fennel Seeds in Curry?

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are commonly used in curry for their unique flavor and health benefits.

Here are some reasons why fennel seeds are used in curry:

  • Flavor: Fennel seeds have a sweet, licorice-like flavor that pairs well with the spices commonly used in curry, such as cinnamon and cloves. When added to the beginning of the cooking process, fennel seeds help to infuse the dish with their distinctive aroma and flavor.
  • Health benefits: Fennel seeds have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to aid digestion, relieve gas, and treat indigestion and flatulence (source: The Takeout). They are also a good source of important nutrients like calcium, iron, and magnesium, which support bone health, nerve and muscle function, and growth and development.
  • Cultural significance: Fennel seeds are a common ingredient in Indian cuisine and are often used in dishes like biryani, curries, and chutneys. They are also served as a digestif after meals to aid in digestion and freshen breath.

The 7 Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds in Curry

Fennel seeds are a key ingredient in many Indian curries, but they can be hard to find in some places.

If you’re looking for an alternative, here are seven substitutes that will offer a similar taste and aroma:

1. Anise Seeds

Anise Seeds

Anise seeds are an aromatic spice that boasts a flavor profile similar to fennel seeds, with a sweet and slightly spicy taste.

These seeds are often used in baking and dessert recipes, as well as savory dishes like soups and stews.

Their licorice-like sweetness and warm fragrance make them an ideal alternative to fennel seeds in curry dishes.

When substituting anise seeds for fennel seeds, use them in equal measure, as their flavor intensity is quite similar.

This switch not only preserves the complex flavors of your curry but also lends a unique twist to traditional recipes.

2. Cumin Seeds

Cumin Seeds

Cumin seeds, a popular spice in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Mexican cuisine, can also serve as a suitable replacement for fennel seeds in curry dishes.

Their earthy, slightly bitter taste and warm aroma lend depth and complexity to a variety of dishes, including curries, spice blends, and marinades.

Though not as sweet as fennel seeds, cumin seeds provide a robust, savory flavor that complements the rich spices commonly found in curry recipes.

To maintain the balance of flavors in your dish, use slightly less cumin than the amount of fennel seeds called for, as cumin’s intensity can sometimes overpower more delicate notes.

3. Caraway Seeds

Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds, another member of the Apiaceae family like fennel seeds, can be an excellent alternative when crafting delectable curry dishes.

Their warm, slightly sweet, and peppery taste offers a nuanced flavor profile that harmonizes with the bold, complex aromas of curry.

Caraway seeds are often found in European and Middle Eastern cuisine, gracing dishes like rye bread, sauerkraut, and stews.

As a substitute for fennel seeds, caraway seeds should be used in a 1:1 ratio, as their flavor intensity is quite similar.

This substitution not only maintains the integrity of your curry but also introduces a delightful, slightly different flavor that may become a new favorite.

4. Dill Seeds

dill seeds

Dill seeds, the tiny, flavorful seeds of the dill plant, are an excellent choice for replicating the unique taste of fennel seeds in curry dishes.

Their warm, slightly bitter, and herbaceous flavor closely resembles that of fennel seeds, making them an ideal stand-in.

Dill seeds are widely used in various cuisines, including Indian, Mediterranean, and Eastern European, and offer a delightful depth to dishes.

When substituting dill seeds for fennel seeds, use a one-to-one ratio to maintain the desired flavor profile.

Incorporating dill seeds into your curry will capture the essence of fennel seeds while adding a fresh twist to your culinary creation.

5. Licorice Root

Licorice Root

Licorice root, known for its sweet, earthy flavor, is another viable alternative for fennel seeds in curry recipes.

This ancient herb offers a unique taste profile, with hints of anise and fennel, and is often used to enhance the flavor of various dishes and beverages.

To use licorice root as a fennel seed substitute, grate or finely chop the root before adding it to your curry.

Since licorice root is more potent than fennel seeds, start with a smaller amount and adjust the seasoning as needed.

This aromatic and flavorful option will impart a similar essence to fennel seeds, creating a delicious and exotic curry experience.

6. Star Anise

Star anise

Star anise, a star-shaped spice native to China and Vietnam, offers a robust, slightly sweet flavor that makes it a fitting replacement for fennel seeds in curry dishes.

This spice is characterized by its licorice-like taste, mimicking the unique flavor profile of fennel seeds.

When using star anise as a substitute, begin with a smaller quantity, as its flavor is more intense than fennel seeds.

Crush or grind the star anise before adding it to your curry to release its full flavor potential.

With its distinctive taste and aroma, star anise is a fantastic option for those seeking a fennel seed alternative in curry recipes.

7. Celery Seeds

Celery Seeds

Celery seeds, the tiny, flavorful seeds of the celery plant, can be used as a fennel seed substitute for those craving a more subtle flavor in their curry.

While celery seeds possess a different flavor profile than fennel seeds, they still contribute a unique depth and earthiness to curry dishes.

These seeds provide a mildly bitter, slightly spicy taste that complements the other spices in curry recipes.

To replace fennel seeds with celery seeds, use the same amount or adjust according to your preference.

By opting for celery seeds, you’ll achieve a distinctive yet equally delicious curry dish without the need for fennel seeds.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • What is the closest herb to fennel seeds? The herb that is generally considered to be closest to fennel seeds in terms of flavor and appearance is anise. Anise seeds have a similar licorice-like flavor and aroma as fennel seeds.
  • Can I leave fennel seeds out of a recipe? Yes, you can leave fennel seeds out of a recipe if you don’t have them or don’t like their flavor. However, keep in mind that fennel seeds add a unique flavor to dishes that may be difficult to replicate with other ingredients.
  • Can I substitute fennel seeds for cumin seeds? No, fennel seeds and cumin seeds have different flavors and cannot be substituted for each other. Fennel seeds have a sweet, licorice-like flavor, while cumin seeds have a warm, earthy flavor.
  • Can I substitute coriander seeds for fennel seeds? No, coriander seeds and fennel seeds have different flavors and cannot be substituted for each other. Coriander seeds have a warm, citrusy flavor, while fennel seeds have a sweet, licorice-like flavor.


In conclusion, there are several substitutes for fennel seeds that can be used in curry dishes without sacrificing flavor.

Star anise, anise seeds, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, dill seeds, parsley, and celery are all great alternatives to fennel seeds. These substitutes offer similar licorice-like flavors that complement the other spices commonly used in curry.

Additionally, many of these substitutes offer their own unique health benefits and cultural significance.

So, whether you’re out of fennel seeds or simply want to try something new, these substitutes are sure to add depth and complexity to your next curry dish.

The 7 Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds in Curry

The 7 Best Substitutes for Fennel Seeds in Curry

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 people


  • Anise Seeds
  • Cumin Seeds
  • Caraway Seeds
  • Dill Seeds
  • Licorice Root
  • Star Anise
  • Celery Seeds


  • Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  • Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.
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Jenny has always been passionate about cooking, and she uses her platform to share her joy of food with others. Her recipes are easy to follow, and she loves giving tips and tricks to help others create their own unique culinary creations.