May 21, 2024


Cooking Is My World

Saunf Mithai Is the Colorful, Fragrant Garnish Your Desserts Are Missing


Funfetti fennel is what I cheekily call the popular Indian sweet known as saunf mithai. Candied fennel seeds, often vibrantly multicolored in hues of pink, green, and orange, are eaten in many South Asian homes and restaurants as a breath freshener and digestion aid. As a kid I looked forward to the end of the meal at our favorite Indian restaurants when the waiter would place down a bill tallying up the damage accompanied by a shiny bowl filled with saunf mithai for us to reach for. Similar to other end-of-meal sweet bites such as red-and-white peppermint candy or Andes mints, saunf mithai is anise-y, aromatic and cooling—especially appropriate after a spicy meal.

Sugar Coated Fennel Seeds

$9.00, Amazon

During the pandemic, when sit-down dinners at Indian restaurants were few and far between, I started serving myself a sugar bowl of saunf mithai after dinner to satisfy my childhood nostalgia. The hard candy shell of the saunf mithai was a treat to reward myself for cooking at home, and I found myself incorporating the candied fennel seeds into my baking for subtle licorice notes and fun color. The crunchy flavor bombs are versatile, festive, and sweet—add them pretty much anywhere you’d use sugar sprinkles to enhance your desserts.

Here’s how to use saunf mithai in your desserts

One of my favorite ways to use saunf mithai is in cake. When the candied fennel seeds are folded into the cake batter and baked, the sugary shells melt away to pigment and sweeten the cake, giving it that iconic confetti coloring while also releasing the pods of floral fennel to flavor it from within. In addition to folding it into the batter, the seeds, when added on top of airy buttercream frosting, add a crackling crunch that’s remarkably sprinkle-like.

Cake isn’t the only sweet where this ingredient shines. It can be used in any dessert where you would use sprinkles. A scoop of vanilla ice cream bejeweled with saunf mithai is a feast for the eyes and the palate. Holiday cookies decorated with the colored seeds taste much better than their standard-sprinkle counterparts. Saunf mithai will make your fancy truffles even fancier. Stir it in as a pop of color in rice crispy treats or as a fun addition to your favorite blondie recipe. If you aren’t a fan of turning your oven on in the summer, it can be as simple as layering orange slices and saunf mithai on top of peaks of wispy whipped cream for a creamsicle-ish dessert that comes together in minutes. However you put it to use, saunf mithai will add texture, flavor, and color to your desserts and sweet treats. Plain sugar sprinkles just don’t cut it for me anymore.

For the Fennel Fans:

Thandai Shortbread Cookies

Amisha Dodhia Gurbani

Mumbai Modern

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit


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