Fenugreek: Health Properties and Culinary Uses

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Not long ago, friends of ours came back home after a few months spent in India, and during a leisurely catchup visit, they produced a large bag full of some dried-up leaves. “This is a magic spice!” they bragged. “It’s good in soups, stews, roasts — everything! We made sure to bring plenty from India because we’ve never seen it around here.”

Curious, we took some of the wonder-spice to smell and … had to laugh, because it turned out to be no more and no less than dried Fenugreek leaves — and though I can’t exactly say it’s available everywhere, we can definitely obtain it in Israel with little difficulty, usually in shops specializing in Yemenite cuisine.

Health Benefits of Fenugreek

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), more commonly known as hilbe in Israel, has some wonderful health properties. In fact, I was first introduced to this wonder herb in university, by a professor who had spent many years researching the connection between Fenugreek and diabetes. It turns out Fenugreek counters high blood sugar, lowering and stabilizing it.

Later, when I became a mother, I also became aware of Fenugreek as a plant to aid lactation — it can improve milk supply (though the effects, from my observation, are inconsistent and very dependent on the individual) up to a point that one has to be careful not to overdo.

Culinary Uses for Fenugreek

Unlike Fenugreek leaves, the seeds are very commonly found in Israeli supermarkets and are widely used in making the hilbe spread, which is a traditional part of the Yemenite Jewish cuisine. The first step in making it is soaking the dry seeds in water (I do that during 48 hours, discarding the water several times in between), causing them to greatly expand thanks to their high content of soluble fiber, which may partially account for the plant’s blood sugar-lowering properties.

The soaked seeds are then blended together with some fresh parsley and coriander, lemon juice and salt (and, in the modern variation, also a ripe tomato) to create a frothy greenish sauce that is mainly used as a dip for pita bread.

Those who aren’t fans of the hilbe dip but want to add Fenugreek to their diet for its health properties can do so easily, as the soaked seeds are very neutral in their taste and can be added to soups, casseroles, pot roasts, baked goods or even smoothies without anyone being any the wiser.

Dried Fenugreek leaves, as has been mentioned above, are great as a spice with rich, complex flavor and aroma that can enhance a lot of dishes. I’d like to try them fresh too, but so far haven’t seen the fresh leaves available anywhere. It might be that the only practical way to obtain them would be to sprout some Fenugreek seeds myself.

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here

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