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Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalSemen Foenugraeci
AlbanianKopër Greqie, Trëndetina yzerlike, Trëndetinë, Yzerlik
Amharicአብሽ
Abish
Arabicحلبه, حلبة
حُلْبَة
Hulba, Hilbeh
Aramaicܦܠܝܠܗ, ܩܪܛ, ܫܒܠܝܠܗ
Pila, Qart, Shebbelila
ArmenianChaiman
Assameseমেথি, মিথি, মিথি গুটি
Methi, Mithi, Mithi guti
BasqueAllibre, Allorbe
BelarusianПажытнік грэчаскі
Pažytnik grečaski
Bengaliমেথি
Methi
Bodoमिथि
Mithi
BulgarianСминдух, Сминдух гръцки, Тилчец, Чимен
Sminduh, Sminduh grutski, Tilchets, Chimen
BurmesePenantazi
CatalanFenigrec
Chinese
(Cantonese)
葫蘆巴 [wùh lòuh bā]
Wuh louh ba
Chinese
(Mandarin)
葫蘆巴 [hú lú bā], 胡芦巴 [hú lú bā]
Hu lu ba
Copticⲁⲗⲓ, ϫⲱϥⲓ, ⲧⲓⲗⲓ
Ali, Jofi, Tili
CroatianGrčka djetlina, Grčko sijeno, Piskavica
CzechPískavice řecké seno, Senenka
DanishBukkehornskløver, Bukkehorns-frø
Dhivehiއޯބައިޔް, އޯބަތް
Oabaiy, Oabath
Dogriमेथी
Methi
DutchFenegriek
EsperantoFenugreko
EstonianKreeka lambalääts, Põld-lambalääts
Farsiشنبلیله
Shanbalile
FinnishSarviapila
FrenchFenugrec, Sénegré, Trigonelle
GalicianFenogreco, Alforfa
GermanBockshornklee, Griechisch Heu
Georgianსოლინჯი, ჩამანი
Solinji, Chaman
GreekΤριγωνέλλα, Μοσχοσίταρο
Trigonella, Moschositaro
Greek (Old)Τῆλις
Telis
Gujaratiમેથી
Methi
Hebrewחילבה
חִילבֶּה
Hilbeh
Hindiकसूरी मेथी, मेथी, साग मेथी
Methi, Sag methi (fresh leaves), Kasuri methi (dried leaves)
HungarianGörögszéna
IndonesianKelabet, Klabat, Kelabat
ItalianFieno greco
Japaneseコロハ, フェヌグリーク
Koruha, Fenu-guriku
Kannadaಮೆಂತೆ, ಮೆಂತ್ಯ
Mente, Mentya
Kashmiriمیٹھ
Meth
Korean호로파, 페니그릭
Horopa, Penigurik
LatinFænum Græcum
LatvianSierāboliņš
LithuanianVaistinė ožragė
MacedonianГрчко семе
Grčko seme
Maithiliमेथी
Methi
MalayHalba, Kelabet
Malayalamഉലുവാ, ഉലുവ, വെന്തയം; ഉലുവ ഇല
Uluva, Venthayam; Uluva ila (leaves)
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)মেথি
ꯃꯦꯊꯤ
Methi
Marathiमेथी
Methi
MongolianГрек чирэг
Grek Chireg
Nepaliमेथी
Methi
Newari
(Nepalbhasa)
मी
Mi
NorwegianBukkehornkløver
Oriyaମେଥୀ
Methi
PahlaviShabaliidag
PolishKozieradka pospolita; Nasiona kozieradki (fenugreek seeds)
PortugueseFeno-grego, Alfarva, Alforba, Fenacho
ProvençalSenigré
Punjabiਮੇਥੀ
Methi
RomanianMolotru, Molotru comun, Schinduf
RussianПажитник греческий, Шамбала, Пажитник сенной
Pazhitnik grecheski, Shambala, Pazhitnik cennoj
SanskritMethika
SerbianПискавица, Грчко семе
Piskavica, Grčko seme
Sinhalaඋළුහාල්, උලුහාල්
Uluhal
SlovakPískavica, Senovka grécka
SlovenianGrško seno, Sabljasti triplat
SpanishAlholva, Fenogreco
SwahiliUwatu
SwedishBockhornsklöver
Tamilமேதி, வெந்தயம், வேதனி; வெந்தய கீரை
Meti, Vendayam, Vetani; Vendaya kirai (leaves)
Teluguమెంతులు; మెంతి ఆకులు
Mentikura, Mentulu; Menthi akulu (leaves)
Thaiลูกซัด
Luk sat
Tibetanམི་ཏི་
Mi ti
Tigrinyaኣባዕከ
Abaka
Tuluಮೆಂತೆ, ಮೆತ್ತೆ
Mente, Mette
TurkishÇemen, Poy baharatı, Çimen, Boy tohumu†, Buyotu, Hulbe, Kokulu yonca
UkrainianГуньба сінна
Hunba sinna
Urduمیتھی, شنبلید, کسوری میتھی
Methi, Shanbalid; Kasuri methi (herb)
VietnameseCỏ ca ri, Hồ lô ba
Co cari, Ho lo ba
Yiddishכילבע, פֿעגרעקום
Khilbe, Fenigrekum

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fresh Fenugreek Herb
Fenugreek leaves sold on an Indian Market
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek seeds
Fenugreek seeds
Note

Fenu­greek is some­times con­fused with its close relative blue fenu­greek, especially in the context of Georgian cuisine.

Used plant part

The brownish–yellow seeds of rhombic shape (about 3 mm). Indians also like the fresh leaves, which are eaten as a very tasty vegetable and prepared like spinach, or dried and used as a flavouring. The leaves of a related plant (blue fenugreek), which appear in Central European cooking, can be substituted by fenugreek leaves.

Plant family

Fabaceae (bean family).

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Greek hay flower
Fenugreek flower
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Flowering fenugreek plant
Flowering fenugreek plant
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek plant with flower
Fenugreek plant with flower
Sensory qua­lity

The seeds have a bitter and aromatic taste. The dried leaves’ fragrance slightly resembles lovage, but they are without any remarkable scent in the fresh state.

Main consti­tuents

Fenugreek seeds contains only minute quantities of an essen­tial oil. In the essen­tial oil, 40 dif­ferent com­pounds were found, further­more, n-alkanes, sesqui­terpenes, alkanoles and lac­tones were reported.

The dominant aroma component in fenu­greek seeds is a hemi­terpenoid γ-lactone, sotolone (3-hydroxy 4,5-dimethyl 2(5H)-furan­one), which is contained in concen­trations up to 25 ppm. It supposedly forms by oxidative deamination of 4-hydroxy isoleucine. Sotolone has a spicy flavour and was also found a key flavour in fermented protein seasonings, e. g., Maggi sauce. There is chemical similarity between sotolone and the phthalides responsible for the quite similar flavour of lovage leaves. (ACS Symposium Series, 660, 1997)

Toasted fenugreek seeds owe their altered, more nutty flavour to another type of hetero­cyclic compounds, the so-called pyrazines. See cumin for further information.

Fenugreek lea­ves were found to contain small amounts of sesqui­terpenes (cadinene, α-cadinol, γ-eudesmol and α-bisabolol). (Journal of Essential Oil Research, 16, 356, 2004)

Among the non-volatile components of fenugreek seeds, the furostanol glycosides are probably responsible for the bitter taste; among the several more compounds yet identified, steroles and diosgenin derivatives (of potential interest for the pharmaceutical industry) and trigonellin (N-methyl-pyridinium-3-carboxylate, 0.4%) are most worth noting.

Origin

The fenu­greek plants is probably native to the Eastern Medi­terra­nean, but is today found all over Asia, from the Medi­terra­nean to China.

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek flowers
Fenugreek flowers
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek flower
Fenugreek flower
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek flowers
Fenugreek flowers
Etymology

Trigonella is a latinized diminutive of Greek trigonon [τρίγωνον] triangle, com­posed of treis [τρεῖς] three and gony [γόνυ] knee, angle (see also Viet­namese coriander); it probably refers to the tri­angular shape of the flowers. Cf. also the Yiddish term for the genus, draykantl [דרײַקאַנטל] three-edged.

The Latin species name foenum graecum means Greek hay, referring to both the intensive hay fragrance of dried fenugreek herb and its Eastern Mediterranean origin. That Latin name still lives in many European tongues, e. g., English fenugreek or Dutch fenegriek. Note that in some of these languages, the name for fennel may look similar, because fennel also derives from Latin foenum hay.

Other languages use adaptions of foenum graecum, like Slovak grško seno Greek hay and Estonian kreeka lambalääts Greek clover. The Classical Greek Greek name of fenugreek, telis [τῆλις], is also found in Coptic tili [ⲧⲓⲗⲓ], but has vanished without a trace from modern languages (maybe with the exception of Bulgarian tilchets [тилчец]?).

Several Germanic languages have closely related names, e. g., German Bockshorn­klee, Swedish bockhorns­klöver and Norwegian bukkehorn­kløver buck’s horn’s clover. These names refer to the long, pointed fruits (legumes) which may be com­pared with a buck’s horn. Similar names meaning buck’s horn are also given to the large pods of St. John’s Bread (Carob) regionally.

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek plant with immature fruits (pods)
Fenugreek plant with immature fruits

Spanish al­holva and Portu­guese al­forba are, like many other plant names used on the Iberic pen­insula (see also capers), bor­rowed from Arabic: al-hulbah [الحلبه] the fenu­greek. The Arabic name hulbah [حلبه] is probably a native Semitic name deriving from the same root ḤLB milk that also lies behind the name of mahaleb cherry. In that case, that name would have been motivated by the strong galact­agogue action of fenugreek which is widely used in folk medicine. The Hebrew cognate is hilbeh [חילבה], which appears in Yiddish as khilbe [כילבע].

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek flower
Fenugreek flower

www.biozak.de

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Nepali fenugreek wih red-purple leaf edges
In Nepal, I found this fenugreek strain with a bright purple leaf edge

Arabic hulbah is also the source for several names of fenu­greek in more Eastern lan­guages: Malayalam uluva [ഉലുവ], Sinhala uluhal [උලුහාල්], Malay halba, Indonesian klabat, Chinese hu lu ba [葫蘆巴, 胡芦巴], Viet­namese ho lo ba [hồ lô ba] and Korean horopa [호로파].

Middle Persian sambalidag is the predecessor of modern Farsi shanbalileh [شنبلیله] or Urdu shanbalid [شنبلید]. It has been borrowed to Russian as shambala [шамбала], and there is also a related form in Aramaic, shebbelila [ܫܒܠܝܠܗ]. A still earlier form can be found in another Semitic language (Akkadian šambaliltu), but the word structure is certainly not Semitic and it must have been an early loan from an unknown source.

Rather similar names are found in some Baltic countries (Finnish sarviapila, Latvian sierāboliņš), but they are unrelated to the Russian and Persian names; rather, the Finnish term appears calqued on (North) Germanic forms (sarvi horn and apila clover). While I could not identify the first element in the Latvian name, the second āboliņš also means clover, and thus the two plant names are either related or just parallel constructions. As an aside, Finnish sarvi comes from a Proto-Finno-Ugric root ŚORWA which is, however, an early loan from Proto-Indo-Iranian ŚR̥VA (from Proto-Indo–European ḰER, ḰR̥̄SEN head, horn); that root is sometimes errorneously believed to lie behind the name of ginger.

There is also a puzzling close but likely coincidential match between Sumerian sullim [𒌑𒂙𒊬] and Georgian solinji [სოლინჯი], with no similar forms in adjacent languages.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Fenugreek (indianetzone.com) A Pinch of Fenugreek (www.apinchof.com) The Epicentre: Fenugreek Medical Spice Exhibit: Fenugreek Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Bockshornklee (biozac.de) Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association: Fenugreek Recipe: Khoreshte Ghorme Sabzi [خورشت قرمه سبزی] (www.farhangsara.com) Recipe: Ghorme Sabzi [قرمه سبزی] (www.persia.org) Recipe: Aloo methi [आलू मेथी] (Potatoes with fresh fenugreek leaves) (www.veggievilla.com) Recipe: Aloo methi [आलू मेथी] (Potatoes with dried fenugreek leaves) (www.recipecottage.com)


Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek herb
Fenugreek plants

Fenugreek is an ancient spice, although currently not much known in the West; it has been grown as a medicinal plant in Europe during the Middle Ages (see also lovage). Today, many people in Western countries seem to dislike its flavour, which they claim to be goaty and bitter. It is now mostly used in the West, Central and South Asia; in India, it is popular for pickles. Dry toasting can enhance the flavour and reduce the bitterness, provided care is taken not to overheat the seeds.

Fenugreek leaves are an im­por­tant spice from Central Asia to North­ern India; in North­ern India, they are some­times found in the typical yeast bread naan (then called methi naan [मेथी नान]); also, the leaves are often used as a fla­vouring for potato curries (alu methi [आलू मेथी]). They me be used fresh, but dried and soaked leaves actually give superior flavour.

Iran has a particularly rich tradition in cooking with fenugreek leaves; among the most famous examples is ghorme sabzi [قرمه سبزی], a thick sauce made from fresh or dried vegetables (leek, onion, occasionally beans) and herbs (fenugreek, parsley, mint; some recipes also call for chives and coriander leaves). The sauce acquires a characteristic acidic flavour by addition of dried limes. Khoreshte ghorme sabzi [خورشت قرمه سبزی] is mutton slowly stewed in this aromatic herb sauce.

The more important spice, however, is fenugreek seeds, which is used in a much larger area, and whose use is more general, not restricted to specific dishes.

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek
Fenugreek (plants with ripening fruits). Note the long pods!
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Greek hay plant
Fenugreek plant

While West­ern Asia is gener­ally not too fond of fenu­greek (the closely related blue fenu­greek, how­ever, is much used in Georgia), the spice is known and valued in the Red Sea region, where it has a long history: Egyptian papyri mention the plant as one necessary for the mummi­fication process. The Ethiopian spice mixture berbere (see long pepper) contains small amounts of fenugreek. Yemeni cooking shows a particularly strong inclination towards fenugreek, as the national sauce hilbeh consists mainly of fenugreek seeds and chiles; that recipe has also found many friends in Israel.

In most of India, especially the south, fenugreek seeds are indispensable; they are usually toasted and ground with other spices to give countless spice blends, or fried in oil to improve its flavour. The use of drief fenugreek leaves, however, is restricted to the North; they are a minor spice, sometimes used in flavouring spicy chickpea curries, which are known by the Anglo–Indian name dal fry [दाल फ्राई]. In the North, also the fresh leaves are used in cooking, but these are a green vegetable, not a herb or spice.

Small amounts of fenugreek seeds should be found in any good curry powders (see curry leaves). Fenugreek is also popular in the South of India and appears in the ubiquitous Tamil spice mixture sambar podi (see coriander). Lastly, the bitter–aromatic seeds constitute an essential part of the Bengali five spice mixture panch phoron (see nigella).

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek plant with unripe pods
Fenugreek plant with unripe fruits
Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek pods
Fenugreek pods

As a gen­eral rule, South India has its spices toasted to a darker colour and flavour than the North; yet the darkest fenu­greek seeds ever I en­coun­tered near the North­ern edge of the Indian sub­continent. Newari cooking, located in the Kath­mandu valley of Nepal, is famous for a number of spicy snacks rich in fresh garlic (see there for more) and dried chiles. Some of the vegetable salads are sprinkled with fenugrek seeds that are no longer brown but plainly black due to excessive toasting. Yet in these extremely spicy, salty and acidic salads, the burnt and bitter flavour actually provides an interesting contrast, for example in achar [आचार] (hot and sour salad from bean sprouts and julienned cucumber and carrot) and also in the highly spiced, pan-fried version of kochila [कोचिला] (ground buffalo meat which can also be eaten either raw with garlic). Newari cooking also employs fenugreek sprouts which can occur as a component in achar, or eaten as a soup.

Also, cooks in Sri Lanka make use of fenu­greek seeds, e. g. as a com­ponent in curry powders (see curry leaves for more). Usually, they are toasted and ground, yet the Sri Lankan food richest in fenu­greek is an exception to this: Kirihodi [කිරිහොදි] is a soupy dish made from cow milk or coconut milk with a few veg­etables and a thick sediment of fenugreek seeds; is is lightly flavoured with curry and pandanus leaves, turmeric and a few cinnamon bark fragments, and is eaten mixed with rice, like any other curry.

The wide-spread popularity of this bitter spice may surprise Western cooks; although bitterness arises unpleasant associations in most people, culinary use of bitter taste is a theme found all over the globe. Of the spices discussed on this page, many have a more or less significantly bitter character. See zedoary for more on that topic.



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