Have you been impressed by food like chicken curry or lentil stew served in Indian restaurants?
Wondering what they’re missing when you cook them at home?
The answer most likely lies in the aromatic spice known as fenugreek.
In addition to the seeds, its leaves can also be consumed.
What is behind its unusual name?
What dishes can you add it to?
Discover all the secrets of this ancient plant with us.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant from the legume botanical family, which also includes, for example, chickpeas and peanuts. It is considered one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. The most used part of fenugreek is the seeds, which are usually dried and ground.
However, especially in Asia, the leaves are also often used in cooking, fresh, dried and frozen. In addition to cooking, it is also used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, and farmers use it as cattle feed. Originally, fenugreek comes from the Middle East, it is mainly used in Indian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Fresh and dried leaves can be used to flavor dishes such as sauces, curries, vegetable dishes and soups. The seeds are used whole or ground, and are also part of a number of spice mixes, such as Indian garam masala, curry or Bulgarian horseradish. In addition, it is also used for medicinal purposes. It is most commonly grown in India, China, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, and it is rarely found here in southern Moravia.
What does fenugreek look like?
The plant grows to a height of around 60-90 cm. From the stem grow small, triple, oval-shaped leaves. The tiny flowers are white or yellow-white in color, the fruit are curved pods. Each pod contains approximately twenty hard, golden-brown, square-shaped seeds.
What does fenugreek taste like?
Fenugreek seeds are one of the staple spices used in Indian cuisine, their sweet nutty flavor reminiscent of maple syrup and caramelized sugar. However, raw fenugreek is quite bitter, only after cooking and in combination with other aromatic substances it transforms and adds sweetness and depth of taste to dishes.
Soaking the seeds overnight and roasting them in a pan or combining them with other strong spices such as coriander, cumin and paprika will also help reduce the bitter taste of the seeds.
At the end, it is advisable to sprinkle lime or lemon juice on dishes with fenugreek. The acid cuts through the sweetness, which would otherwise be too sweet, and is essential to bring out all the complex flavors that fenugreek has to offer.
An unusual name
At first glance, the plant catches your eye with its name – Greek hay fenugreek. The name of fenugreek is said to refer to the fact that the one who used it could so-called whistling, because thanks to its health-promoting effects, he was not troubled by any problems. Finally, the reference to Greece is a kind of reminder of Hippocrates, the ancient father of medicine, who advocated fenugreek as a remedy for a number of ailments.
The word hay refers to the fact that already in ancient times, fenugreek was a very sought after animal feed, mainly due to the fact that our ancestors noticed the positive effect of its consumption on the milk production of their cows, goats and sheep. Sometimes it is also possible to meet with the English name fenugreek.
What does fenugreek contain?
This spice contains a whole range of valuable substances and plant compounds, which, in addition to its taste, also give it exceptional medicinal effects. The table shows values for one teaspoon or 3.7 grams of fenugreek seeds.
|12 calories||0.327 g||0.851 g||0.237 g||2.16 g||0 g|
Among minerals, fenugreek contains, for example, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.
|28.5 mg||11 mg||7.07 mg||0.046 mg||0.041 mg||6.51 mg||0.093 mg||1.24 mg|
In addition, it contains some B vitamins.
|Vitamin B1||Vitamin B2||Vitamin B3||Vitamin B6||Vitamin C|
|0.012 mg||0.014 mg||0.061 mg||0.022 mg||0.111 mg|
Fenugreek in the kitchen
Fenugreek seeds and leaves are most commonly used in Indian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. It generally adds depth to neutral ingredients such as potatoes and lentils, and balances spicy or earthy flavors, which is why it’s so common in curries.
In India, roasted ground fenugreek seeds are also used as a substitute for coffee or added to flour when making bread. Fenugreek is also an ingredient in halva, a typical Middle Eastern dessert.
- Fenugreek is most often used in spicy soups and curry dishes, try it, for example, in recipes for chicken curry . Of course, there is also a vegetarian version, for example in the form of various variants of curry chickpeas .
- When it comes to fresh or frozen leaves, their use is interchangeable with any other leafy vegetable. You can be inspired, for example, in various recipes with spinach , but you can also add them to other stewed vegetables.
- When the leaves are blanched and flash-fried, their concentrated flavor helps bring things like potatoes to life. Just boil the potatoes, add them to the pan with butter and sandstone leaves and salt everything.
- You can use the dried leaves, for example, in the preparation of tomato sauce , but they also give a great life to sauces made from cream.
- Do you like to grill? You can use the dried leaves to prepare marinades for grilling . For example, for fish, it is recommended to mix crushed dried leaves with a little mustard and yogurt.
- In terms of legumes, fenugreek is often used in lentil recipes . Together with coconut milk and other spices, it is, for example, part of the dish niyamai parripu, or Sri Lankan lentils.
- When it comes to our classic soups, the best way to use fenugreek is to cook potatoes or mushroom soup.
- There are a large number of different varieties of chutney, or thick sauce, with which dishes are seasoned to give them a more pronounced taste. When making homemade chutney, you can very easily use fenugreek as one of the ingredients.
What to replace fenugreek with?
When it comes to substitutes, there is no single ingredient that can deliver both the bitterness and the sweet maple flavor of fenugreek. A solution may be to mix a small amount of maple syrup and mustard seed.
Mustard seed gives fenugreek an earthy flavor, while maple syrup mimics its nutty, sweet flavor. But be careful not to add too much maple syrup or your dish might end up tasting more like a dessert.
Another option is fennel seed or curry powder. If you can’t find fresh fenugreek leaves for your recipe, try substituting chopped celery leaves, which have the same mild bitter taste.
You can store dried leaves and dried seeds in a tightly closed container, protected from heat and moisture. This will last for several months. If the recipe calls for ground or crushed fenugreek seeds, it is advisable to crush or grind them before use. Ground powder quickly loses its potency.
Fenugreek and health
Fenugreek has been used in alternative medicine for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems, and is considered one of the oldest medicines in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Improves Breast Milk Production – Research suggests that fenugreek can increase breast milk production and the rate of weight gain in newborns. Drinking tea with fenugreek seeds is thus recommended for women who have problems with insufficient production of breast milk.
- Increases Testosterone Levels – One of the most common reasons why men take fenugreek supplements is to increase testosterone levels. Some studies have found it to have beneficial effects, including increasing libido.
- Helps control blood sugar levels – consuming fenugreek can be beneficial in this regard, both for people with and without diabetes. The substances that fenugreek contains help the absorption of glucose in the intestines and improve insulin sensitivity. In one study, people with type 1 diabetes took 50 g of fenugreek seed powder with lunch and dinner. After 10 days, participants experienced improvements in blood sugar and reductions in total and bad cholesterol.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and blood pressure – Fenugreek helps regulate cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve heart health. This may be because fenugreek seeds contain roughly 48% fiber. Fiber is very difficult to digest and forms a viscous gel in the intestines, which makes it difficult to digest sugars and fats.
- Supports proper digestion – this spice has a positive effect on digestion, relieves stomach acidification, flatulence, diarrhea and heartburn.
- It benefits the skin – fenugreek also has a very beneficial effect on the skin, speeds up healing and alleviates various skin problems, such as rashes or eczema. For this reason, it is so often added to cosmetic products.
- Aids weight loss – fenugreek can suppress appetite and, thanks to its fiber content, increase the feeling of satiety, which leads to a reduction in the amount of food consumed and weight loss.
- Reduces inflammation – the amount of antioxidants in fenugreek gives it great potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
- Pain Relief – Fenugreek has long been used in traditional medical systems to relieve pain. Scientists believe that the alkaloids contained in it help block the sensory receptors that allow the brain to perceive pain.
How to use fenugreek?
If you don’t want to use fenugreek as a spice for cooking, you can also make tea out of it very easily. It can then not only be drunk, but also used as a decoction for hair or skin.
Just pour one teaspoon of ground seeds over a cup of hot water and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. It is recommended to drink the tea a maximum of three times a day. The cooled decoction can be used to rinse your hair or rub problem spots on the skin with it.
Side effects of fenugreek
Side effects of consuming large amounts of fenugreek can include stomach upset and dizziness. Pregnant women should avoid using fenugreek because it contains compounds that can stimulate contractions and induce premature labor.
Last but not least, fenugreek can act in the body in a similar way to estrogen, so it can have a negative effect on people with hormone-sensitive cancers.