Do Fennel Seeds Expire? (Effective Way to Make Them Last!)
I’ve experienced it before—you have a package of fennel seeds forgotten for a year (or more!) and you are now wondering if you should use your precious garden space for them to grow or if they are going to be a waste of time and time! You’re likely wondering what happens when they’re left unused for months and years at a time. Will fennel seeds expire?
If stored in an air-tight container, fennel seeds can maintain high quality and viability for around 4 years. After that, they will gradually lose their scent and flavor. Storing fennel seeds for more than 4 years can significantly reduce their germination rate.
Okay, so now that we have that out of the way, I’ve got a helpful guide to give you a hand in making sure your fennel seeds will stay amazing for as long as possible! Continue scrolling!
Can Fennel Seeds Go Bad?
Fennel seeds do not necessarily go bad, rather their quality and viability naturally degrade over time. With proper storage, fennel seeds can last up to about 4 years and retain their great shape, flavor, smell, and germination rate.
Like most other seeds and spices, fennel doesn’t have an expiration date. So fennel seeds don’t go out of date, technically speaking.
However, their quality can quickly and easily drop in just a year or less if they are left exposed to the elements.
Below are 3 sure signs that fennel seeds are no longer good for cooking due to bad quality:
- No aroma
So unless you’re planning to cook and eat tons of fennel seeds in a single season, don’t save too much. Otherwise, they’ll lose their potency and become useless as spice.
How to Check if Fennel Seeds are Still Viable?
On the other hand, fennel seeds are no longer viable if they don’t germinate in a simple germination chamber. For this, you will only need some water, a resealable plastic bag, and a piece of paper towel.
Despite being able to last years—decades, even—the germination rate of many seeds, including fennel, can drop by 50% every year.
Moisten the paper towel before placing a couple of fennel seeds on it. Fold or roll that moistened paper towel and insert it into the plastic bag.
Pro Tip: Avoid placing them directly into the soil as you can monitor them more easily on a paper towel (as a plant daddy, I do love seeing them germinating).
Check on this every 2–3 days, for a total of 2 weeks. Be on the lookout for fennel sprouts, and count them by the end of this testing period.
Divide the total number of fennel seeds that germinate by the total number of seeds you’ve tested. You’ll get a reliable germination rate this way.
Find out the ideal germination temperature for 60+ plants!
What Can You Do With Fennel Seeds?
Besides being used for propagating the hardy herb, fennel seeds are commonly used as a seasoning or spice for Mediterranean dishes. It can also be used to create teas and confections.
If you were able to get tons of seeds from your fennel plant after their flowers were spent but you don’t plan on cultivating numerous pots of the herb from seed, add them to your dishes!
Fennel seeds are normally used to cook or create
- Chinese five-spice
- Indian garam masala
- Italian sausage
- Infant food
In India, there’s also something called sugar-coated fennel seeds which is exactly as it sounds. Locals often use them like mints to freshen their mouths. These closely resemble sprinkles!
Similar to many herbs and spices, the essential oil content of fennel seeds is what gives it its characteristic smell and flavor.
Along with these uses come many beliefs about the different medicinal uses and benefits of fennel seeds. One that I find particularly fascinating is that ancient Roman gladiators thought that fennel seeds could give them an extra boost in strength for fighting in the arena!
How Do You Store Fennel Seeds? (4 Crucial Factors!)
To properly store fennel seeds, they must be kept 1) dry, 2) cool, 3) dark, and 4) secure. Doing so can extend the shelf life of fennel seeds by years.
When it comes to making fennel seeds last, one important factor should be kept in mind: the essential oils in fennel seeds are responsible for their flavor and aroma.
Fennel seeds have an oil content of 3–6%, primarily consisting of 25% fenchone and 50–60% anethole. These plant oils give fennel seeds their characteristic blend of anise and licorice hints along with a warm sweetness.
In other words, oils in fennel seeds should be contained to extend their shelf life and keep their germination rates high.
Prevent premature sprouting and mold development by keeping your fennel seeds dry. This also means that they must never be kept in a highly humid environment. Keeping fennel seeds dry will also help you avoid having them go rancid.
If you’re planning on saving seeds from your fennel plants at home, be extra sure that it’s 100% dry before storing them away. Dry seeds should not bend easily—if at all. Instead, they should break with little to no effort.
Pro Tip: Whole fennel seeds store best as their outer coating protects the seeds from losing their essential oils quickly.
You could also buy food-safe desiccant packets, such as those found in vitamin bottles, to make sure they stay dry even after you open and close their air-tight containers a few times.
What is the Best Storage Container for Fennel Seeds?
Air-tight containers are the best storage container to keep fennel seeds dry. Examples of these include rubber-lined glass jars, polyethylene bags, and aluminum foil bags. Some studies, however, have also shown that dried fennel seeds can be kept in cotton and paper bags at room temperature for a year with minimal loss of essential oils.
Once in their storage containers, keep the fennel seeds in a cool place like a fridge or freezer.
Don’t keep your fennel seeds—or any other spice, for that matter—in hot or humid areas in the house such as attics and garages. High temperatures can shorten their lifespan by 50%.
Besides keeping the temperature low, it’s also important to keep it relatively stable. You don’t want drastic fluctuations. So I would advise against placing them on your fridge door.
Pro Tip: Lower temperatures equate to longer seed life which is why the Global Seed Vault in Norway stores seeds at 0°F or approximately -18°C. Try to mimic this by keeping fennel seeds in the freezer for long-term storage.
Exposure of fennel seeds to direct sunlight can result in faster oxidation, and as a result, decreases the quality and viability of fennel seeds.
Similar reactions can also be expected from artificial light sources like grow lights and other bulbs that are designed to also emit UV.
In short, don’t place your fennel seeds anywhere that gets considerable light—natural or artificial. Again, this makes the freezer a great storage space!
Alternatively, you can keep it in your pantry or in a cool cupboard where it mostly stays dark. But also remember to keep them away from heat sources like ovens and the like.
Pests that make their way into our homes are sure to target the food we keep at home as well—and yes, they can also aim for stored herbs and spices like fennel seeds.
Deter rats and squirrels with these plants!
So besides choosing an air-tight container, select one that doesn’t open easily.
For instance, screw-cap containers are better than those with lids that have a flap that you can easily be opened and closed with a single hand.
Pro Tip: Rodents can chew through plastic containers if they are desperate enough. Opt for glass or metal containers instead.
Personally, though, I prefer transparent glass jars because they allow me to check on my spices without opening the container.
What is a Sign of Good-Quality Fennel Seeds?
Good and high-quality fennel seeds are 1) whole oval-shaped grayish yellow-green seeds with ridges, 2) dry and firm but sweetly aromatic, and 3) with little to no foreign materials.
Ever wondered how you can tell if fennel seeds are good quality? Well, I’ve got the answer for you!
Fennel seeds are generally judged by their look and feel. They should also not contain other plant materials or debris.
In India, quality inspection for fennel seeds and similar seeds and spices is traditionally done manually. But this is costly and time-consuming as inspectors must first be trained.
Nowadays, quality assessment of fennel seeds can be made more efficient with electronic imaging systems. With such tools and equipment, large batches of fennel seeds can be checked for quality in a shorter time.
Cracked and blemished fennel seeds can also be more readily identified and removed.
This is important as poor-quality fennel seeds can induce microbial growth and blackening if kept with other good seeds, making them all unfit for human consumption.
Are fennel seeds true seeds?
Contrary to popular belief, readily available whole fennel seeds are not true seeds. Fennel seeds are commonly used to refer to the herb’s tiny fruits which contain their actual seeds. Though they can be eaten while still green right after being harvested from spent brown seed heads, they are more commonly allowed to ripen before being fully dried.
What happens when you soak fennel seeds in water?
Because the seeds of fennel herbs are actually inside their small elongated fruits, soaking fennel seeds in water helps improve and speed up germination. More specifically, it is said that soaking for 4–5 days is best to ensure increased germination rates. They can then be sown by 0.25 inches (0.63 cm) after the last spring frost or by mid-summer.
Is it safe to eat fennel seeds?
It is safe to eat fennel seeds, whether or not they’re freshly collected. However, newly picked fennel seeds have a much stronger flavor profile and aroma than old ones, especially those that have not been kept in cool, dry, and dark spaces in air-tight containers. When cross-pollinated with dill, it may also develop an undesirable taste.
Can someone be allergic to fennel?
Fennel is one of the few spices that can elicit rare and mild allergic reactions in people. The other spices include coriander, mustard, paprika, and saffron. Only 2% of all food allergies can be attributed to spices and seasonings. Experts, however, stress that it may be underdiagnosed due to the lack of accurate and reliable skin and blood tests.
Summary of Do Fennel Seeds Expire
Like other seeds and spices, fennel seeds don’t expire but their flavor, aroma, and germination rate can deteriorate in just 1 year when not stored correctly. But with proper storage and optimal conditions, fennel seeds can stay good for more or less 4 years.
To be more specific, fennel seeds should be kept in a sturdy air-tight container and kept in a place that is dry, cool, dark, and secure. At home, fennel seeds are best stored in the freezer. Regular fridges, pantries, and cupboards also serve as great storage spaces for spices such as fennel seeds.
- “Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare” by Susan Mahr in the University of Wisconsin – Madison
- “Quality Evaluation of Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel) Seeds Using Colorization” by Jalpa J Patel, Dr. Chintan K Modi, and Kavindra R Jai in Academia
- “Cultural Practices and Post Harvest Handling, Affecting Seed Yield and Quality of Volatile Oils of Anise (Pimpinella anisum L.) and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill)” by Enaam Ismail Abdalla Ibrahim in University of Khartoum Repository
- “Life Expectancy of Vegetable Seeds” by James Romer in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
- “How Long Do Seeds Last?” by Petra Page-Mann in The Cornell Small Farms Program
- “5 Seeds that Support Healthy Digestion” by Valerie Lull in the American College of Healthcare Sciences
- “A Guide to Food Storage for Emergencies” by Brian Nummer, Carolyn Washburn, and Teresa Hunsaker in Utah State University Extension