What Is Fenugreek And What Does It Taste Like?

Fenugreek has been a staple of both medicine and cooking for centuries. As Spiceography reports, the seeds were found in Tutankhamen's tomb, and the emperor Charlemagne cultivated the herb in his imperial gardens back in the ninth century.

When cooking with fenugreek, you can use both the leaves and the seeds. The leaves can be incorporated either fresh or dried, per Masterclass, and the small golden seeds can be lightly toasted and used in a wide variety of dishes. Leafy, fragrant fenugreek can make a welcome addition to curriesSerious Eats explains, while the seeds can be combined with other strong herbs such as coriander and cumin to add some serious depth of flavor to a spice blend.

Fenugreek is particularly popular in Indian cuisine, where the seeds are often used alongside other warm, fragrant spices. Masterclass suggests using the ground seeds as part of the classic spice blend garam masala. Fenugreek is also the star ingredient in a variety of Indian dishes where you see the word "methi," which Gourmet Sleuth notes is the name of the fenugreek plant in India.

Fenugreek has a unique flavor

While you may expect fenugreek's leaves to have a herbaceous flavor, Masterclass explains its dominant flavor profile most closely resembles maple syrup, with a hint of bitterness, sweetness, and nuttiness for a truly unique taste.

If you need proof of exactly how a herb could make you think of the staple pancake topping, just ask the Manhattan residents who were baffled by a sweet scent floating through the air back in 2009. The New York Times published a story about an "aromatic mystery" where waves of maple-scented air ended up being the result of fenugreek seeds being processed at a nearby plant.

The strong, distinct flavor of this spice means it can be easy to overdo. However, there are a few fixes if you accidentally add a bit too much to your dish. Spiceography suggests adding creamy ingredients such as yogurt or coconut milk, incorporating a hint of sweetness to counteract the bitterness that an abundance of fenugreek can bring, or adding other strong flavors like lime and ground coriander seed. And, as with any ingredient that you were a bit too heavy-handed with, Spiceography also suggests diluting your overall recipe to counteract the overwhelming flavor.

In addition to its many culinary uses, fenugreek has also been frequently used in alternative medicine. It's thought to help boost breast milk production, increase testosterone and libido, reduce heartburn, and control appetite (via Healthline).