Fenugreek is a spice - the dried seeds of Trigonella foenum-graecum, a member of the pea family, and also an herb - the leaves of the same plant. It grows in Eurasia, from the eastern Mediterranean to China. It is one of the important exports of India.
History. Fenugreek was among the medicinal drugs recognized by Ancient Egyptians as long ago as the 16th century BCE, and it was used in mummification. The dried seeds were also used in ancient Indian, Greek, and Arabic medical practice.
Description. Fenugreek is an annual that grows to a height of 4 to 20 inches (10 to 41 cm). This plant has pale yellow or off-white flowers that bloom from June to July, and the spice is the seed that grows in a pod about 4 inches (10 cm) in length. There are about 20 yellowish-brown seeds in each pod, which harden when dried.
Food and Other Uses. This herb is cultivated for culinary and medicinal use. The seeds have a bitter taste and rank a two of ten on the hotness scale. Ground fenugreek seeds are a traditional ingredient in Indian curry, in curry powders and pastes, and in the Bengali “five spice” mixture. Fenugreek seeds are used in Egyptian bread, and a coffee substitute is made of fenugreek in northern Africa. It is also used in pickling.
Fenugreek leaves are dried and used for flavoring, or cooked as other greens. Their flavor is similar to lovage, and they are an ingredient in the traditional Georgian spice mix. Fenugreek is also a flavoring used in artificial syrups and is combined with yogurt or other ingredients, such as mustard or dal, to make an Indian hair conditioner.