Wait, is this small, striped seed a dill seed or a fennel seed? And which one should you use in that recipe you’ve been wanting to try? 

The commonalities between dill and fennel seeds go beyond their similar appearance. They’re both edible seeds that come from aromatic herbs in the Apiaceae family, commonly known as the celery family. And they’re both celebrated for their many culinary and medicinal uses. 

They’re not similar enough, however, to use interchangeably, so you’ll want to be able to distinguish between them before you toss them in a dish or concoct an herbal remedy. Let’s go over how to tell the two seeds apart. Then I’ll touch on their various applications and how you can grow dill and fennel in your herb garden so you can collect your own seeds. 

fennel seed at top of photo with the words what's the difference between dill seed & fennel seed in the middle and dill seeds at the bottom of the photo.


THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DILL SEED AND FENNEL SEED

Dill Seed vs Fennel Seed Appearance

At first glance, these seeds look almost identical. But on closer inspection, there are two key differences. Dill seeds are shaped like ovals, while fennels seeds are longer and shaped more like cylinders. (Some fennel seeds curve inwards like little bananas instead of being perfectly cylindrical.) I think that dill seeds look a bit like fennel seeds that have been smooshed flat.

If you were to hold the two in your hand, you’d also notice a slight size difference between the two. Fennel seeds are slightly longer. (An easy way to remember which seeds are bigger is to think of the actual plants they turn into. Fennel plants can grow a couple feet taller than dill.) 

Dill Seed vs Fennel Seed Taste

Dill seed and fennel seed are both renowned for their distinct taste profiles. Dill seeds have a more grassy, slightly bitter flavor with citrus undertones. They’re a staple in pickling brines, seafood dishes, and creamy sauces.

In contrast, fennel seeds boast a strong licorice flavor with both slightly bitter and sweet notes. They’re often used in baking and pastry recipes and are prized in Italian cuisine for seasoning sausage, enhancing soups, and elevating salads.

When in doubt, do a little seed taste test. If it tastes like star anise, it’s fennel. That distinct flavor is probably the easiest way to tell them apart.

dill seed versus fennel seed


DILL VS FENNEL PLANTS

Like I mentioned, dill and fennel come from the same plant family, the Apiaceae family. You can also find celery, carrots, and cilantro in this family (it’s a pretty tasty, nutritious bunch!). Many of the seeds for this plant family look similar. Carrot seeds are teeny tiny versions of dill seeds. 

In addition to sharing similar-lookin seeds, dill and fennel plants can also be hard to tell apart. That’s mostly because dill leaves look a lot like the feathery leaves of fennel plants. 

Dill, with its feathery foliage, is an annual herb. Most dill plants grow about 2′ to 3′ feet tall, and we harvest the flavorful leaves to use in the kitchen. When it goes to seed, dill first produces clusters of tiny yellow flowers. We harvest dill seeds from these flower heads.  

Fennel has a bulbous base below its feathery foliage, and it’s this bulb that we typically harvest and use, not so much the leaves. Fennel plants can grow up to 5′ or 6′ tall. Fennel flowers, as you might expect, look very similar to dill flowers. 

dill plant versus fennel plant image


CULINARY USES FOR DILL AND FENNEL SEEDS

In the realm of culinary arts, dill seed and fennel seed both offer bold flavors that can elevate a dish to a new height. Both seeds can be brewed into herbal teas or infused into vinegars to add unique flavor dimensions to culinary creations.

How to Use Dill Seeds in the Kitchen

Dill seed, with its fresh, grassy notes and citrus undertones, shines in pickling brines and salad dressings. It lends a really nice, tangy flavor to cucumbers and other vegetables. My favorite way to use dill seeds is making homemade dill pickles. Fresh dill leaves are often used in potato salad and homemade ranch dressing, a family favorite.

Dill Seed Substitution

Cumin seeds, with their earthy and slightly bitter taste, can stand in for dill seed in pickling brines or spice blends if you find yourself out of dill seeds.

How to Use Fennel Seeds in the Kitchen

Fennel seed is used whenever you want to add that strong licorice flavor to a meal. You’ll find it often used in Italian sausages and savory bread recipes. Fennels seeds are easy to toss into curries and stews to make the flavor profile a bit more complex, if you feel like experimenting.

Fresh fennel leaves are often used as a garnish or flavor enhancer in salads and seafood dishes. Fennel bulbs can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. They caramelize really well and turn sweeter with heat, so many people roast them.

Fennel Seed Substitution

Should you find yourself cooking a recipe that calls for fennel seeds but you’ve run out, you can substitute anise seeds. They have a similar licorice flavor profile.

 

how to use dill and fennel seed in the kitchen. A woman standing at a kitchen counter adding dill leaves to a jar of pickles.


MEDICINAL USES FOR DILL AND FENNEL SEEDS

 

Beyond their culinary prowess, dill seed and fennel seed have long been revered for their medicinal properties and health benefits. They’re both actually known for their digestive benefits. It’s said these seeds can aid in relieving gas, bloating, and indigestion, making them popular additions to herbal remedies and digestive teas. In some parts of the world, people even chew fennel seeds after a meal as a preventative measure. (It’s probably better than popping a bunch of Tums, right?)

Besides helping your digestive system, both seeds are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Dill seeds are full of vitamin A, which can boost our eye health and immune function. Dill plants are believed to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Fennel seeds boast vitamin B, vitamin C, and lots of antioxidants that combat free radicals and promote overall well-being.

fennel seeds in a wooden spoon and fennel tea in a glass cup.


HOW TO STORE DILL AND FENNEL SEEDS

 

To prolong the shelf life and preserve the freshness of your dill and fennel seeds, you’ll want to store them properly. Keep them inside an airtight container or plastic bag in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight for best results. Any exposure to heat and light can diminish their flavor and aroma over time.

HOW TO GROW DILL AND FENNEL IN YOUR HOME GARDEN

Both dill and fennel plants love nice, cool weather. Pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil for planting. I love to grow both of these in raised beds, but you could also do a large container at least 12 inches deep. Dill plants can thrive with partial shade, but fennel will need full sun to grow its bulb.

I recommend sowing the seeds directly in the ground or containers where they’ll grow. Space your seeds according to the plant’s mature size, and keep the soil consistently moist. You shouldn’t really have to worry about pests, but if you see caterpillars on your plants, please leave them be. These plants are important food sources for black swallowtail caterpillars.

With just a little time (about 45 days) and attention, you’ll soon have tons of lush foliage to harvest and bring indoors. You can harvest your full fennel bulbs in about 90 days. Let some plants linger in your garden and go to seed so you can enjoy their vibrant flowers and harvest your own seeds very soon.

Learn more about growing dill from seed to harvest HERE and how to harvest seeds HERE.

dill flowering in the garden

I hope you can now tell the difference between these two seeds and feel confident knowing which parts of each plant you’re going to add to your next delicious meal! If you’re new to cooking with seeds, why not incorporate these aromatic seeds into your culinary repertoire today and discover the endless possibilities they offer?

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.