Sifted Spice

Pollen: a nasal nemesis, an airborne menace, springtime’s bane. But what’s agony for your sinuses can be ecstasy for your food. Yes, the culinary joys of pollens from the fennel and dill plants are enough to bring you to—okay, I won’t say tears. Let’s leave it at revelation.

The pollens are sifted from the plants’ flowers, which are handpicked and air-dried. The flavor is sweeter and more nuanced than the herbs themselves. Of the two, fennel pollen gets the congeniality award, its versatility extending to dry rubs for meat and game, pestos, breads, even fruit desserts. But don’t expect fennel’s distinctive anise flavor; the pollen is more redolent of curry and honey.

The native Mediterranean plant recently has established residency in many East Coast restaurant kitchens. It has settled in big time at Plates (121 Myrtle Blvd, Larchmont 914-834-1244), where Matthew Karp rubs it onto pork loin and pairs it with garlic and lemon zest on rack of veal. It makes appearances at SOMA 107 (107 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains 914-682-6795), Antipasti (1 N Broadway, White Plains 914-949-3500), and shows up in salads at The Farmhouse at Bedford Post (954 Old Post Rd, Bedford 914-234-7800). At Meritage (1505 Weaver St, Scarsdale 914-472-8484), it has become a permanent fixture, flavoring pastas, tuna carpaccio, salads, and tomato-braised monkfish. Mark Kramer of Susan Lawrence Gourmet (26 N Greeley Ave, Chappaqua 914-238-8833) is so enamored, he’s even invited it home, where houseguests breakfast on eggs scrambled with the pollen, saffron, goat cheese, and his garden’s chives and lavender. (I’ve been angling for an invitation.) “Fennel pollen is one of my favorite ingredients,” he says.

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Dill pollen is more limited in function. Best utilized as a final sprinkle or blended into a buttery sauce, a pinch will enliven potatoes, eggs, cucumber salads, chicken, and fish. A swirl into cold soups likes borscht and vichyssoise will take them from delicious to divine. Always the innovator, Chef Kramer mixes it into aioli for shrimp, and adds it to warm butter for pan-seared orange roughy with cucumber.

Like saffron, the pollens are costly, but a little goes a long way. Websites like fennel,, and charge about $10 for an ounce of fennel pollen and half-ounce of dill. Chef Central (45 Central Park Ave, Hartsdale 914-328-1376) carries fennel pollen for about $10 a half-ounce, and dill for $18 an ounce; Blue Hill Café (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600) offers .75-ounce of the fennel for about $19. Both pollens derive from organic plants, are salt-free, and the fennel variety also comes blended with other spices for pairing with specific foods. Between the two of them, I’d say that’s nothing to sneeze at.

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