foenum-graecum of the pea family (Fabaceae), also known as
erect two to three foot tall annual herb with light green
leaves and small white flowers. The seed pods contain ten
to twenty small, flat, yellow-brown, pungent, aromatic seeds
to a pod. The seeds have a strong aroma and somewhat bitter
taste, variously described as similar to celery, maple syrup,
or burnt sugar.
is native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean region and
Western Asia. It is cultivated from western Europe to China
for the aromatic seeds and is still grown for fodder in
parts of Europe and northern Africa. It is an indispensable
ingredient in Indian curries.
has a long history as both a culinary and medicinal herb
in the ancient world. It was one of the spices the Egyptians
used for embalming and the Greeks and Romans used it for
cattle fodder (hence the Latin foenum graecum meaning Greek
hay). It was grown extensively in the imperial gardens of
Handling and Storage:
in a cool, dry place for maximum of 6 months. Should be
roasted before use to reduce bitterness.
fenugreek seeds have an unpleasant, bitter taste, so the
seeds are usually roasted and ground before use to mellow
the bitterness. The seeds are very hard and difficult to
grind, a mortal and pestle working best. Fenugreek is a
favorite in Northern African and Middle Eastern dishes and
is one of the few spices that is usually used in powdered
form even in Indian curries. Seed extract is used in imitation
vanilla, butterscotch and rum flavorings and is the main
flavoring in imitation maple syrup. Also used in breads
in Egypt and Ethiopia. Ground seeds and / or leaves, can
give a nice lift to some bland vegetarian dishes. Also good
in marinades. Generally, a nice unusual flavor to experiment
with to achieve some different effects. Use very young shoots
with only a few leaves and some watercress for a nice salad
addition. Fenugreek seeds are also used in candy, baked
goods, ice cream, chewing gum and soft drinks. The seeds
can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
in vitamins and minerals, and because it is a seed and a
legume, it is high in protein (which makes it very useful
in vegetarian diets).
used as a yellow dye. The leaves are dried and used as an
insect repellent in grain storage. In various areas of North
Africa the seeds (ground into a paste) were traditionally
eaten by women to gain weight, in combination with sugar
and olive oil. The seeds are still used for weight gain
in Libya and other areas. They are also an important source
of diosgenin, which is widely used in the production of
steroids (which probably accounts for the weight gain),
sex hormones, oral contraceptives and veterinary medicines.
article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.
is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed
computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's
Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel (both
in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville, Arkansas,
and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North Carolina.
is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant in
Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia (five years
so far). It is well worth paying a visit to James' food reference
website which is a useful resource well worth Bookmarking
- to visit either website just click on their title:
Food Reference Website
Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida
James T. Ehler, 2001
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