Fenugreek is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae. The plant has small round leaves, is cultivated worldwide as a semi-arid crop, and is a common ingredient in dishes from the Indian Subcontinent. It is known as methi in Marathi, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, and Nepali, as methii in Bengali, as menthiyam, and venthayam in Tamil, "uluhaal" in Sinhala, Helba in Arabic, menthya in Kannada, uluwa in malayalam, and menthulu in Telugu.
Zohary and Hopf note that it is not yet certain which wild strain of the genus Trigonella gave rise to the domesticated fenugreek but they 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
cattle (De Agri Cultura, 27).
Major fenugreek-producing countries are Iran, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Argentina, Egypt, France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco and China. The largest producer of fenugreek in the world is India, where the major fenugreek-producing states are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, and Punjab. Rajasthan produces the lion's share of India's production, accounting for over 80% of the nation's total fenugreek
Fenugreek has three culinary uses: as a herb (dried or fresh leaves), as a spice (seeds), and as a vegetable (fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens). Sotolon is the chemical responsible for fenugreek's distinctive sweet smell.
The distinctive cuboid-shaped, yellow-to-amber coloured fenugreek seeds are frequently encountered in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. The seeds are used in the preparation of pickles, vegetable dishes, daals, and spice mixes, such as panch phoron and sambar powder. Fenugreek seeds are used both whole and in powdered form and are often roasted to reduce their bitterness and enhance their flavor.
Fenugreek is also used as a vegetable. Fresh fenugreek leaves are an ingredient in some Indian curries. The sprouted seeds and microgreens are used in salads. When harvested as microgreens, fenugreek is known as Samudra Methi in Maharashtra, especially in and around Mumbai, where it is often grown near the sea in the sandy tracts, hence the name (Samudra, which means "ocean" in Sanskrit). Samudra Methi is also grown in dry river beds in
plains. When sold as a vegetable in India, the young plants are harvested with their roots still attached. Any remaining soil is washed off and they are then sold in small bundles in the markets and bazaars to extend their shelf life.
In Persian cuisine, fenugreek leaves are used and called (shanbalile). It is the key ingredient and one of several greens incorporated into ghormeh sabzi and Eshkeneh, often said to be the Iranian national dishes.
Fenugreek is used in Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine. The word for fenugreek in Amharic is abesh (or abish), and the seed is used in Ethiopia as a natural herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes.
Yemenite Jews following the interpretation of Rabbi Salomon Isaacides, Rashi of Talmūd, believe fenugreek, which they call hilbeh, hilba, helba, or halba is the Talmudic Rubia. They use fenugreek to produce a sauce also called hilbeh, reminiscent of curry. It is consumed daily but ceremoniously during the meal of the first and/or second night of Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year).
Fenugreek seeds are thought to be a galactagogue that is often used to increase milk supply in lactating women.
A June 2011 study at the Australian Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular Medicine found that men aged 25 to 52 who took a fenugreek extract twice daily for six weeks scored 25% higher on tests gauging libido levels than those who took a placebo.
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 breast milk production and its use was associated with increases in milk production. It can be found in capsule form in many health food stores.
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 by reducing serum glucose and improving glucose tolerance.
Fenugreek leaves (per 100 g of edible portion) contain the following nutrients:
* Carbohydrates: 6.0 g
* Protein: 4.4 g
* Fat: 0.9 g
* Minerals: 1.5 g
* Calcium: 395 mg
* Phosphorus: 51 mg
* Iron: 1.93 mg
* Total energy: 49 kcal
In February 2009, the International Frutarom Corporation factory in North Bergen, New Jersey, was found to be the source of a mysterious maple syrup aroma which had been reported as occasionally drifting over New York City since 2005. The odor was found to be from sotolon, an ester in fenugreek seeds. No health risks have been found.
Fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 and 2010 have been linked to outbreaks of Escherichia coli O104:H4 in Germany and France, causing 50 deaths in 2011.