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My mom always called the seeds in rye bread caraway. But they are in Italian sausage and a jar labeled fennel seeds.

Are they the same thing?

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Note that your mom was most probably right: the seeds in a seeded rye bread are caraway, never fennel. –  Marti Mar 30 '13 at 19:54
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2 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Fennel and caraway are relatives, but not the same plant. Fennel seeds have a flavor dominated by anise/licorice, where caraway is quite different, being dominated by other flavors. They also have subtle differences in appearance.

Cumin, anise, and dill are other look-alike seeds with very different flavors. Anise and fennel have very similar flavors, and can be substituted for each other. Caraway and dill are likewise similar in flavor. Cumin has a flavor different from any of the above. I am including pictures of fennel, caraway, anise, cumin, and dill seeds so you can see how similar they are, but also how there are subtle differences in shape.

Fennel Seed:

Fennel seeds picture

Caraway Seeds:

Caraway Seeds picture

Anise Seed: It is hard to tell from the picture, but anise seeds are much smaller than fennel. Anise Seed

Cumin Seeds: note, these vary considerably in color Cumin seeds picture

Dill Seeds: (note how much flatter theses are)

Dill seed picture

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They are related, but not the same plant. Wikipedia also calls Caraway "meridian fennel", which hints as to how related they are.

According to Wikipedia, Caraway is in the Apiaceae family, along with anise, fennel, cumin, licorice-root, and coriander.

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I tend to think of fennel as having a more pure anise/licorice flavor, where caraway has other flavor notes, and isn't completely dominated by anise flavor. –  BobMcGee Jul 26 '11 at 2:33
    
@BobMcGee I agree, that's the difference between them. –  Zach Jul 26 '11 at 3:24
    
You know what... I really should have posted that as an answer. –  BobMcGee Jul 26 '11 at 5:02
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protected by Community May 15 '13 at 2:19

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