Botanical name: Trigonella foenum-graecum ▪ Family name: Leguminosae
Fenugreek is a seed spice from a small annual leguminous plant which grows to about 0.6 m with light green leaves similar in appearance to clover. Fenugreek is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins, which makes it an important ingredient in the vegetable and dhal dishes eaten in the poorer parts of India.
Native range: India, Southern Europe
Major producers: India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt, France, Argentina
Harvesting: Fenugreek plants are harvested when the flowers have developed into light brown seed pods. Between 10 and 20 seeds are obtained from each pod.
Taste and aroma: Fenugreek seeds are highly aromatic, with a curry-like smell. The taste is celery-like and bitter.
Culinary uses: Fenugreek seeds are used in curry powders, spiced fish dishes, and in Indian pickles and chutneys. In Egypt and Ethiopia fenugreek is used to flavour bread, and it is a vital constituent in the Ethiopian berbere spice mixture.
Other uses: Fenugreek is used in the cosmetic industry. It is also used as a conditioning powder to produce a glossy coat on horses.
Historical uses: The ancient Egyptians used fenugreek for embalming, and also burnt it as incense. The Romans used it as fodder for their animals, and this is still the practice in India today.
Storage: Fenugreek seeds can retain their flavour and aroma for a year or more when stored in an airtight container in a cool place. The powder loses its flavour if stored for long periods.