Spice NO.1? A big or small one?
“Heat two bowls of wine with one plate of fennel beans" is the classic line of Kong Yiji, a character written by Lu Xun.
“Heat two bowls of wine with one plate of fennel beans" is the classic line of Kong Yiji, a character written by Lu Xun. Speaking of fennel, people in the north may first think of fennel with its reputation as the "King of Winter Vegetables". It is green and full of a soul-stirring aroma, so it is called "Hun Xiang".
History of fennel - formerly known as "Marathon".
There's a lot to be said about fennel's origins. In Greek, the name for fennel is marathon. Marathon is a place name in Greece that was named after the fennel that grew there in the past. The battle of Marathon in the Greco-Persian War, and the marathon sport inherited from this, accidentally spread the Greek term around the world.
The ancient Greek poet Hesiod detailed in his book Theogony the story of Prometheus using fennel stalks to steal fire from the gods and give it to humans. Ancient Egyptians and Middle Easterners began to use fennel as an important seasoning for cooking meat to remove fishy smells, add flavor, and promote appetite.
Fennel is about the period of the North and South Dynasties along the Silk Road "marathon" to China. Tao Hongjing, a famous doctor at that time recorded: "When cooking stinky meat, put a little fennel so it doesn't smell bad even added stinky sauce afterward, so it is called ‘hui xiang’." Perhaps this is the origin of the fennel name in Chinese.
Spice group - cumin & anise
The fruit of fennel is the Chinese traditional medicine cumin (fennel seed), which is used for both medicinal and food purposes. There are two types of fennel seasoning commonly used in life: cumin and anise (fennel, star anise). Cumin is the dried mature fruit of fennel(Apiaceae), native to the Mediterranean Sea, and anise is the dried mature fruit of star anise(Magnoliaceae), native to Guangxi.
Star anise has a stronger, more pungent flavor while cumin has a fresher, less pungent flavor. Anise has a stronger flavor when cooked, while cumin has a stronger flavor when sautéed or roasted. Chinese people used cumin much earlier and it was used to be called fennel, but now star anise is more commonly used which led to cumin becoming NO.2 in the flavoring industry. Besides, due to its smaller shape, cumin is also been called "small cumin".
Cumin is an important one of China's famous spice group - Five-spice Powder (star anise, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, lilac, bay leaf). In the spice industry, there is a principle of application: Monarch, minister, and supplement. It is the prescription principle of traditional Chinese medicine, which was first seen in Shennong's Herbal Classic: "The top 120 medicines are ‘Monarch’ to nourish lives. The ordinary 120 medicines are ‘Minister’ to maintain health. The left 125 medicines are ‘Supplement’ to cure diseases. The use of medicines must be in harmony with this rule."
Regarding this, there is also a spice principle. For example, in the spice group - Five-spice Powder, star anise and cumin belong to the “Monarch”. Pepper and cinnamon belong to the “Minister”. Lilac and bay leaf belong to the “Supplement”.
You might ask why there are more than five spices in the so-called Five-spice Powder. It is just a general term, as long as not less than five, can be called Five-spice Powder. Just like Thirteen-spice has twenty-more kinds of spices.
Natural Spice - Star Anise Oil
Anise is an important "medicine and food" economic plant in the south of China, and its fruit is commonly used as a food flavoring spice, known as “daliao” in the north and star anise in the south.
The fruit and leafy branches of anise are distilled by water steam distillation to produce a colorless to light yellow clear liquid or solidified body, anise oil, whose main components are volatile oil substances such as aniseed brain, anisaldehyde, tarragon brain, and so on. Anise oil is known as the umbrella of the digestive system, and in modern industry, it is an important raw material for making sweet wine, beer, and cosmetics.
Tip - Northern "Hun xiang"
100 Dumplings, 50 will be the fennel stuffing.
The fennel is mostly used as stuffing in the North.
Since the pronunciation of Chinese fennel is similar to“back to home”, northerners prefer to make dumplings with fennel stuffing at Spring Festive.
In Beijing, douzhier(A traditional Beijing bean juice) is not a crowd-pleaser, but “hun xiang” is.