What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek seeds are a potent and unique spice, they have an odd cuboid shape with a pale golden colour and a characteristic maple syrup aroma. Herbal notes and a tangy finish make Fenugreek a powerful tool in many cuisines, especially South Asian.
What does Fenugreek taste like?
As soon as you bring Fenugreek close to you you’ll be hit by the complex aroma of caramelised maple syrup with slight notes of herbal freshness. When raw the seeds are very hard and extremely bitter however upon cooking they soften and those bitter notes subside allowing the nutty maple flavours to develop into a pleasant sweetness.
What is Fenugreek used for?
Fenugreek is particularly well known for its use in South Asian cooking in countries like India and Sri Lanka. Fenugreek seeds are one component of the commonly used whole seed spice blend panch phoron, which means “five spices” in Bengali, panch phoron can be used to flavour dishes where you want the crunchy texture of whole seeds. Fenugreek seeds are often used to bring extra depth to curries, the sweet nuttiness that develops as they cook elevating the flavour. It is generally recommended to pan roast the seeds of medium heat, this helps to temper the bitter notes to allow that distinct maple flavour to be fully appreciated. To further reduce the bitterness you can soak the seeds in water to soften overnight prior to toasting.
Need some inspiration for using fenugreek? Look no further, we’ve found some great recipes to get you started.
- Panch Phoron (Indian Five Spice Blend) Recipe
- Butternut and fenugreek curry with ginger and spinach recipe
- Roasted cauliflower with curry sauce and chapatis recipe
Names and Origins
Fenugreek seeds come from the plant Trigonella foenum-graecum, a herb in the legume family related to beans and peas. The name Fenugreek comes from the Latin faenumgraecum which translates to “Greek Hay”. In South Asia it is referred to as methi so if you’re using Indian recipes keep an eye out for this regional name. The plant itself is a short leafy herb which grows up to 60cm in height, it’s leaves are similar to that of clover although obviously larger.
Fenugreek has been cultivated in Asia for millennia, the earliest evidence of its use is from charred seeds from 4000 BC in what is now Iraq. The Romans used Fenugreek to flavour wine in the 1st century AD.
Fenugreek has long been considered to hold medicinal properties being used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is claimed that Fenugreek tea can help nursing mothers produce more milk as well as help men improve testosterone levels however these claims are still awaiting more research.