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Ask Mr. Gold: What the Devil is Fennel Pollen?

Dear Mr. Gold:

A few weeks ago, you mentioned that the Penzey’s store in Torrance didn’t sell something called fennel pollen. What the devil is fennel pollen, and why should I want any of it? My allergies are bad enough this time of year as it is.

Russ, Redondo Beach

Dear Russ:

Fennel pollen, which is the powdery, intensely yellow stuff that may be gathering even now on wild-fennel weeds in your back yard, is the strongest, purest source of licorice smell known to mankind, a substance that makes toasted fennel seeds, or even the imported wild-fennel flowers that cost more than $150 a pound, seem as mild as supermarket anise. Pound up some of the miracle powder with rosemary, thyme and sea salt, and your next pork roast will smell like a Tuscan hillside. Sprinkle a little on a cream-sauced pasta — boom, a jolt of flavor. Mix a teaspoonful with honey and use it to glaze a roasted bird. It may not be nirvana in a tin, but you can see it from there.

Fennel pollen was popularized by Dario Cecchini, a celebrity butcher in the heart of the Chianti region, and its use in the United States was jump-started by Mario Batali, who owns Babbo and Del Posto in New York City. You can score your own at the delightfully named Web site www.fennelpollen.com, or pick up a tin at La Brea Bakery.


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