Meet fennel pollen

Although nobody wants to think about pollen in the thick of allergy season, fennel pollen is an example of discharged male gametes done good: The golden powder is hand-scraped from the buds of fennel plants in bloom.

Learn its backstory

Northern Italians have enjoyed the flavor of fennel pollen for centuries, but the substance first arrived in the United States in the guise of a digestive aid. Chefs, most notably Mario Batali, in the 1990s started clearing pantry space for the costly seasoning, bewitched by its capacity to transform seemingly any food into a complex and nuanced edible experience.

When writers try to describe fennel pollen, they tend to resort to language plucked from fantasy books: It’s been likened to fairy dust, magic and the spice shaken from angels’ wings. As those analogies suggest, fennel pollen doesn’t taste like fennel: It’s more akin to licorice scented with tangerines.

And order it here

The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen & Spirits, 75 Wentworth St., 877-221-7202, therestorationhotel.com (Scallops with pan-seared sweet potato, fennel, pear mostarda and fennel pollen, $21)

— Hanna Raskin

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.