Spice Profile: Fenugreek Seeds

An exotic spice, fenugreek isn’t only used to give curry a kick, but also as a source of fiber and a help in regulating cholesterol levels.

| July 2016

  • “Herb & Spice Companion: The Complete Guide to Over 100 Herbs & Spices” by Lindsay Herman
    Photo courtesy of Wellfleet Press
  • Used as a seasoning particularly in the Middle East and India, fenugreek is a key ingredient various spice blends and even imitation maple syrup.
    Photo by Fotolia/Oliver Wilde

When it comes to cooking, the sheer variety of herbs and spices can be overwhelming. With all the powders, jars, and plants available, how do you know what to buy and when to use it? When is fresh better than dry? Should you eat the stems, the leaves, the roots? In Herb & Spice Companion (Wellfleet Press, 2015), Lindsay Herman has created an accessible guide to seasonings, with over one hundred profiles of the most-used herbs and spices across the globe. As exampled here with fenugreek, Herman provides a comprehensive look at each plant’s history, how to prep and serve and store the seasoning, and how to grow your own spices from seed to harvest. That’s not even mentioning her instructions on various techniques for drying, freezing, frying, mixing, crushing, and chopping that are both brilliant and simple. A book for everyone, from cooks just starting out to old pros adding excitement to their dishes, Herb & Spice Companion is a must for any kitchen.

Fenugreek Seeds

Trigonella foenum-graecum
Flavors: pungent, bitter when raw; nutty, bittersweet, burnt sugar when roasted

The fenugreek plant plays a major role in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines for both its tasty leaves and pungent seeds.

The seeds have a strong fragrance that reminds many people of curry powder— that’s because the spice is often used heavy-handedly in curry powder blends. They’re a crucial component of several other spice blends too: Ethiopian berbere and Yemeni hilbeh. Fenugreek seeds offer an undercurrent of sweetness, which is extracted to make imitation maple syrup.

Health Benefits

Fenugreek seeds contain a significant amount of soluble fiber, which has been shown to slow digestion and possibly lower blood sugar, a sign that it may be helpful in treating diabetes. Studies have suggested that it may also help regulate cholesterol levels, reducing the bad (LDL) cholesterol, while increasing the healthy (HDL) cholesterol. A tea made of fenugreek seeds is said to stimulate the production of milk in breastfeeding moms, and it’s been used to relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause, including erratic mood and hot flashes.

In the Garden

Fenugreek, an annual, grows successfully in containers if treated to plenty of sun. In cooler climates, bring potted fenugreek indoors during the winter months. They don’t transplant easily, so choose a suitable container and stick with it. The seeds grow in long, slender pods that can be easily opened and removed.

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