This is going to sound willfully pretentious, but fennel pollen is the special ingredient you need to take your day-to-day home breakfasting to the mythical next level. I’ll admit, if you mention you're gonna be cooking with an herb hand-harvested from the flowers of an organic fennel plant, you risk coming across as someone with too much money and too little taste. But fennel pollen is legit: These golden yellow and rustic green flecks of magic dust have long been used in Italian cooking, and they positively shine when paired with morning staples like eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal as they imbue your fare with a natural honeyed sweetness while muting the divisive anise taste that usually defines fennel.
I first stumbled across fennel pollen 18 months ago when I was battling a bout of acid reflux. Realizing I didn't particularly want to be popping Nexium pills for the rest of my life—and that the learned Homer J. Simpson had lied when casting beer and pizza as cornerstones of a diet—I retooled my chow sessions to eliminate volatile acidic foods in favor of calming alkaline ones. I learned that fennel is a reflux-friendly powerhouse, and during the inevitable journey down an internet wormhole that followed, I discovered Pollen Ranch's organic fennel pollen.
I ordered a half-ounce tin of what was touted as an "incredibly aromatic perennial herb from the Umbelliferae family" that promised a "huge flavor kick," and set about adding fennel pollen to hearty dinner dishes like soups, stews and roasted whole fishes.
The outcome was, well, OK, I guess.
Sure, there was definitely an extra trace of mellifluousness going on when taste testing, but the finished outcome was far from the explosive flavor bomb I'd been promised. Was I using enough fennel pollen? Maybe not. But this stuff doesn't exactly slum it on the cheap end of the spice spectrum, so dunking half a tin into a Royal Corona bean stew didn’t seem the most frugal of solutions.
The more I toyed with fennel pollen, the more it presented itself as a delicate soul at heart. On its own, it possesses a distinctive taste and aroma, but it quickly gets lost in the mix when introduced to a slew of other ingredients, especially when asked to swim in stocks and sauces. With that in mind, the logical step seemed to be employing it as an accoutrement to breakfast dishes, where you're often working with pared down ingredients.
My inkling was correct—fennel pollen steps up as a star when it’s included in an early morning meal.
Sprinkled on top of fried or poached eggs, fennel pollen's soothing sweetness brings out the creaminess of the whites and the butteriness of the yolks. (It pairs excellently with white pepper.) It's a candied joy when added to a batch of bacon sizzling in the skillet, infusing the rashers with a warming hint of maple. (It works similar magic on mushrooms, if you're contemplating a full English.) And fennel pollen trickled through honey should be your go-to topping when you want to upgrade some kefir, yogurt or oatmeal. (On that note: If someone enterprising artisan has not already created fennel pollen honey, please go ahead and do so at your earliest convenience.)
I've been devoted to fennel pollen for over a year now—and I have no plans to ditch the bright little charmer. To be honest, at this point I have no idea if the pollen itself actually has any beneficial effect in combating reflux—but I do know it can fancy up an egg with the best of ‘em.