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Pollen-Nation America’s New Culinary Obsession

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Pollen is a culinary delicacy. No, not the kind that gets all over your car and makes you sneeze five times in a row — a different kind, one that has exquisite flavor and a permanent spot on the rack in many high-end restaurants. What is it?

Fennel Pollen. A pinch of this spice can create flavor in even the most dull dishes (like that lunchtime salad). After trying it for the first time, food writer Peggy Knickerbocker wrote, “If angels sprinkled spice from their wings, this would be it.” The flavor is sweet, but combined with savory dishes, like salmon, it fades into a heavenly but subtle “je ne said quoi.” Anyone with culinary experience will tell you it’s the pixie dust of cooking.

While fennel pollen was first used in the breads and pestos of Italy, it’s become more popular in the U.S. over the past 16 years. Fennel flowers grow all year and can quickly fill a field. However, it can take one person an hour or more to collect only an ounce of pollen — and where there’s hard work, there are high prices. A mere 1 oz of the spice can range from $20-30 online. A small price to pay for a sprinkle of magic on your Sunday dinner, but still not a purchase to take lightly.

Luckily, there are multiple other benefits to growing fennel. It’s a perennial herb that comes from the Umbelliferae family, which means it contains anti-oxidants, vitamins, and other substances that help boost our immune systems. For example, the bulbs are rich in fiber, which can reduce cholesterol levels, and the seeds can be made into a tea that can reduce bloating. In a world filled with prepackaged frozen foods, organic pollen can do a lot of good for the body.

But fennel isn’t the only plant that’s become famous for its pollen. Contrary to fennel, dill pollen doesn’t have such a potent aroma, but its flavor is more of a front runner than a subtle background player. Combined with olive oil and used as a rub on salmon, it gives off a tangy flavor. When allowed to sit and moisten, dill pollen packs a punch, and it’s slightly cheaper than its fennel cousin; 1 oz of dill pollen starts at around $15.

Chefs around the world, with decades of culinary experience, use pollen to take their dishes to a new level. California chef Bernard Guillas, who recently received the Master Chefs of France Award, emphasizes the benefits of organic pollen. He told Chef’s Insight, “I look at my local farms as the heart and soul of my cooking,” and he offers packaged pollen and spices for purchase on his website.

From field to fork, having pollen in the pantry could be just what your kitchen and your body needs for a tasty and healthy meal without needing years of culinary experience. At the end of the night, all you’ll hear is, “You have to give me that recipe.”

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