AskDefine | Define fenugreek

Dictionary Definition



1 annual herb or southern Europe and eastern Asia having off-white flowers and aromatic seeds used medicinally and in curry [syn: Greek clover, Trigonella foenumgraecum]
2 aromatic seeds used as seasoning especially in curry [syn: fenugreek seed]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A spice made from the seeds of Trigonella foenum-graecum, used in Indian and Thai cooking.


  • Finnish: sarviapila
  • German: Bockshornklee

Extensive Definition

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant in the family Fabaceae. It is commonly known as methi (Hindi, Urdu, Bangla, Marathi), Menthyada soppu (Kannada), venthayam (Tamil), menthulu (Telugu), Hilbeh (Arabic), or ulluva (Malayalam). Fenugreek is used both as an herb (the leaves) and as a spice (the seed). It is cultivated worldwide as a semi-arid crop. It is frequently used in curry.


The name fenugreek or foenum-graecum is from Latin for "Greek hay". Zohary and Hopf note that it is not yet certain which wild strain of the genus Trigonella gave rise to the domesticated fenugreek but believe it was brought into cultivation in the Near East. Charred fenugreek seeds have been recovered from Tell Halal, Iraq, (radiocarbon dating to 4000 BC) and Bronze Age levels of Lachish, as well as desiccated seeds from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Cato the Elder lists fenugreek with clover and vetch as crops grown to feed cattle (De Agri Cultura, 27).


The rhombic yellow to amber colored fenugreek seed, commonly called methi, is frequently used in the preparation of pickles, curry powders, and pastes, and is often encountered in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. The young leaves and sprouts of fenugreek are eaten as greens, and the fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor other dishes. The dried leaves (called kasuri methi) have a bitter taste and a strong characteristic smell.
In India, fenugreek seeds are mixed with yogurt and used as a conditioner for hair. It is one of the three ingredients of idli and dosa (Tamil). It is also one of the ingredients in the making of khakhra, a type of bread. It is used in injera/taita, a type of bread unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. The word for fenugreek in Amharic is abesh, and the seed is reportedly also often used in Ethiopia as a natural herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes. It is also sometimes used as an ingredient in the production of clarified butter (Amharic: qibé, Ethiopian and Eritrean Tigrinya: tesme), which is similar to Indian ghee. In Turkey, fenugreek gives its name, çemen, to a hot paste used in pastirma. The same paste is used in Egypt for the same purpose. The Arabic word hulba حلبة (Helba in Egypt) for the seed resembles its Mandarin Chinese counterpart hu lu ba. In Yemen it is the main condiment and an ingredient added to the national dish called saltah. Fenugreek, or Şambélilé in Persian, is also one of four herbs used for the Iranian recipe Ghormeh Sabzi.
In Egypt, fenugreek seeds are prepared as tea, by being boiled then sweetened. This is a popular winter drink served in coffee shops. In other parts of the Middle East fenugreek is used in a variety of sweet confections. A cake dessert known as Helba in the Islamic world is a tasty treat during Islamic holidays. This is a semolina cake covered in sugar or maple-like syrup, and sprinkled with fenugreek seeds on top.
Jews customarily eat the fenugreek during the meal of the first and/or second night of Rosh Hashana (The New Year). It is green and is similar to the verb ירבו (to increase) in Hebrew, which symbolically signifies a prayer that their merits will increase.


Fenugreek seeds are a rich source of the polysaccharide galactomannan. They are also a source of saponins such as diosgenin, yamogenin, gitogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogens. Other bioactive constituents of fenugreek include mucilage, volatile oils, and alkaloids such as choline and trigonelline.
A side effect of consuming even small amounts of fenugreek (even as just an infusion in water) is a maple syrup or curry smell in the eater's sweat and urine, which is caused by the potent aroma compound sotolone. Fenugreek is frequently used in the production of flavoring for artificial syrups. The taste of toasted fenugreek is additionally based on substituted pyrazines, as is cumin. By itself, it has a somewhat bitter taste.
Fenugreek is mainly used as a digestive aid. Fenugreek seed is widely used as a galactagogue (milk producing agent) by nursing mothers to increase inadequate breast milk supply. Studies have shown that fenugreek is a potent stimulator of breastmilk production and its use was associated with increases in milk production of as much as 900%. It can be found in capsule form in many health food stores.
Supplements of fenugreek seeds were shown to lower serum cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein in human patients and experimental models of hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia (Basch et al., 2003). Several human intervention trials demonstrated that the antidiabetic effects of fenugreek seeds ameliorate most metabolic symptoms associated with type-1 and type-2 diabetes in both humans and relevant animal models (Basch et al., 2003; Srinivas, 2005). Fenugreek is currently available commercially in encapsulated forms and is being prescribed as dietary supplements for the control of hypercholesterolemia and diabetes by practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine.
In recent research, fenugreek seeds were experimentally shown to protect against cancers of the breast (Amin et al., 2005) and colon (Raju et al., 2006). The hepatoprotective properties of fenugreek seeds have also been reported in experimental models (Raju and Bird, 2006; Kaviarasan et al., 2006; Thirunavukarrasu et al., 2003).
It is very helpful for reducing heat in the human body.



fenugreek in Bulgarian: Сминдух
fenugreek in Catalan: Fenigrec
fenugreek in Czech: Pískavice (koření)
fenugreek in Danish: Bukkehorn
fenugreek in German: Bockshornklee
fenugreek in Spanish: Trigonella foenum-graecum
fenugreek in Persian: شنبلیله
fenugreek in French: Fenugrec
fenugreek in Galician: Alforfa
fenugreek in Upper Sorbian: Kozyradka
fenugreek in Italian: Trigonella foenum-graecum
fenugreek in Hebrew: גרגרנית יוונית
fenugreek in Georgian: უცხო სუნელი
fenugreek in Hungarian: Görögszéna
fenugreek in Malayalam: ഉലുവ
fenugreek in Malay (macrolanguage): Halba
fenugreek in Dutch: Fenegriek
fenugreek in Japanese: フェヌグリーク
fenugreek in Norwegian: Bukkehornkløver
fenugreek in Polish: Kozieradka pospolita
fenugreek in Portuguese: Feno-grego
fenugreek in Romanian: Schinduf
fenugreek in Russian: Пажитник
fenugreek in Finnish: Rohtosarviapila
fenugreek in Swedish: Bockhornsklöver
fenugreek in Vietnamese: Cỏ ca ri
fenugreek in Turkish: Çemen otu
fenugreek in Yiddish: באקסהארן
fenugreek in Chinese: 胡芦巴
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