Is the hype worth the price tag?
Long harvested by hand from wild fennel plants by cooks in northern Italy (and more recently by cooks in California, where the plant also grows wild in abundance), fennel pollen is increasingly prized by chefs worldwide and sold by boutique spice vendors for as much as $20 per ounce. Given that fennel seeds (which are derived from cultivated fennel) cost about $5 per ounce, we wondered if the wild pollen could be worth the splurge.
When we compared the two sprinkled over ratatouille as a garnish, baked into cookies, and sautéed in oil with kale, we understood the hype: The delicate crunch of these golden granules and their remarkably complex flavor featuring hints of licorice and citrus and a honeyed, marshmallow-like sweetness overshadowed the fibrous texture and one-note licorice taste of the seeds.
But given its cost, we recommend saving fennel pollen to use as a finishing touch. Sprinkle a pinch over everything from vegetables to pork, fish, and grilled meats; add it to oil for dipping bread; and use it to garnish pasta and creamy soups.