Feb 1, 2016

Ingredients: Let's All Reek With Fenugreek!

Fenugreek, methi or, samudra methi is an annual herb which is commonly featured in dishes of the Indian Subcontinent.  It is a member of the plant family Fabaceae, and of the genus and species Trigonella foenum-graecum. It's seeds are used as a spice while the plant is used in fresh and dried form as an herb.

Fenugreek or methi seeds
Fenugreek/methi can be used as a spice in the form of it's seeds. The square shaped yellow seeds can be utilized whole or powdered in pickles/achaari, dals, sambar, vegetable dishes, curries, and the traditional spice mixes of the various cuisines of South Asia. Dry roasting or fryingthe seeds mellows their pungent flavor a bit, but scorching them results in a strong, bitter flavor. Use them sparingly, for they are quite powerful in flavor.

The leaves of fenugreek look a bit like pea or vetch leaves.
Understandable, as fenugreek is also in the Fabaceae family.
Fenugreek/methi can be used in fresh or dried form as an herb. Fresh fenugreek/methi leaves are commonly sold at markets across the Subcontinent in bundles with the roots still attached. They feature in many curries and flatbreads also. The fresh leaves are much milder in flavor than the seeds. You'll often see fenugreek/methi growing wild in clumps near water where the soil is sandy across South Asia. The leaves are very rich in calcium and also make excellent cattle fodder. The sprouted seeds of fenugreek/methi can also be used in salads.
Dried fenugreek leaves are called kasoori methi.
The dried leaves of fenugreek are called kasoori methi in Hindi and are used in curries also. The dried leaves much stronger and pungent in flavor than the fresh leaves and can quickly overpower a dish if not used judiciously.

One of the many brands of dried fenugreek leaves available in India.

The flavor and scent of fenugreek/methi in all it's forms is very unique and unusual.
 It's flavor has been described as being a combination of celery, fennel, and maple syrup. It also has a very earthy and rather rank musty, fusty note.
Sotolon, 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethylfuran-2(5H)-one
(Also called caramel furanone, sugar lactone, fenugreek lactone)


Sotolon is the powerful aroma compound responsible for fenugreek/methi's distinctive fragrance and flavor. Sotolon is also the major aroma and flavor component of artificial maple syrup, the herb lovage, molasses, aged rum, aged sake, white wine, flor sherry, and toasted tobacco. High concentrations of sotolon result in the musty taste present in curries and pickles/achaari. At lower concentrations the flavor and scent of fenugreek/methi presents as a pleasant caramel or maple syrup note. Sotolon passes through the human body unchanged and is excreted in sweat and urine. Anyone consuming quite a bit of fenugreek/methi will thus reek of sotolon. I've often wondered if sotolon is the "curry smell" that many non Desi persons find objectionable. I've also wondered if sotolon is the "mysterious" note of "honey and decay" in Guerlain's famed perfume Djedi.  It would certainly be mysterious and unfamiliar to most Western palates. At any rate, go easy on the fenugreek/methi in all it's forms when cooking for Westerners whom are new to Desi cuisines.

Guerlain's Djedi

12 comments:

  1. Definitely go easy on it, I use the leaves uncooked in salads myself, and once I ate way too much of the thing. I reeked of it for two days, my clothes in which I did sweat were smelling nasty too. That stuff is really powerful!

    I use a pink of Kasoori methi in my chicken gravy dishes, this is the secret ingredient that makes the restaurant dishes taste so much better than the home cooked one. But yeah again, go easy on the stuff, too much and the flavour of a dish will be completely off.

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    1. Hi Cyn,
      I tried a recipe for "Achaari Murgh" (Pickle Chicken) which called for 3 TBS of kasoori methi and 1 tsp of crushed fenugreek seeds. OH MY. That was some potent stuff. Never again. A very modest pinch of kasoori methi OR ground methi seeds is enough to give a dish that pleasant caramel sweetness.

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    2. That sounds like a lot a fenugreek! I did an Achari Murghi recipe at the weekend (Meera Sodha's one) that used a teaspoon of fenugreek seed, among other things. It was really good.

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    3. Hi Mim,
      I thought it was a lot of fenugreek in that recipe also. However, the recipe was from a 'famous' Indian chef's cookbook so I trusted her. Between the fenugreek overload, the teaspoon of crushed ajwain, & the mustard oil in that recipe it was definitely "pickle-ish" chicken to say the least.

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  2. Wise words from experienced cooks appear here! I once encountered a glass jar containing dried leaves, labeled "NOT BASIL! Fenugreek. Use only 1 or 2."

    And I do agree with Bibi's notion that this spice is the source of the "curry smell" some find objectionable in certain public areas. It does have staying power!

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    1. Hi Beth,
      Indeed, methi should come with a warning label in all it's forms!

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  3. I totally agree with everything you guys have said! It needs a warning label, should be used sparingly, and will make you and your clothes smell. Tastes good when used well though!

    I also think it's methi that makes non-Indians think that Indians "smell like curry." The smell is really potent and too distinctive.

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  4. I've never been able to detect the maple smell, but I sure do catch the whiff of decay from it. I was at Penzy's earlier in the week and saw they only sell fenugreek ground, and in huge bags. That would be a lifetime supply for us (and we make curries at least once or twice a week). I cannot imagine anyone getting through such a large quantity of the stuff.

    You might be right about Djedi, though I think it is the combination of orris root along with it that makes it so sickening. Of course, I'm the only person I know that didn't think it was a masterpiece.

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    1. Hi Goody,
      I was underwhelmed by Djedi myself. Along with the orris root and fenugreek I get a whiff of kewrah/pandan/screw pine. Kewrah starts out like as rose like floral, but then gets rather earthy and rank after that initial floral note to me. I can see where both fenugreek & kewrah would smell 'mysterious' to most westerners as they've probably never encountered either before.

      They sell methi seeds & kasoori methi in huge bags very cheaply here too. I suppose someone must be using large quantities of it. I have a 6 oz jar of the seds I know I'll never use, so I'm going to throw some out on the bare patch of my garden in spring & see if it grows. Fresh methi leaves are much milder & great in salads - the neighbor's cow loves the leaves too.

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  5. I've never been able to detect the maple smell, but I sure do catch the whiff of decay from it. I was at Penzy's earlier in the week and saw they only sell fenugreek ground, and in huge bags. That would be a lifetime supply for us (and we make curries at least once or twice a week). I cannot imagine anyone getting through such a large quantity of the stuff.

    You might be right about Djedi, though I think it is the combination of orris root along with it that makes it so sickening. Of course, I'm the only person I know that didn't think it was a masterpiece.

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  6. Soak fenugreek seeds at night. Drink the water on empty stomach and chew the seeds. It is considered an excellent remedy to keep blood sugar levels in check and also for good digestion.

    Apple

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Any questions? Please feel free to ask!

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