You may have never heard of fenugreek leaves, but this plant has various uses, including cooking. Its seeds can be used to season food as well, but the leaves can also be dried and ground.
However, as you may have guessed, these leaves aren’t very common and if your recipe calls for them, you should have some backup options in mind.
Even if this ingredient doesn’t sound familiar, you probably have had it at some point in life, as fenugreek is part of many Indian spices and sauces, including garam masala, curry, and chutney. But as a spice or as a fresh ingredient, fenugreek can be hard to come by.
What Is Fenugreek?
Let’s talk about it first though, what are fenugreek leaves and what can you use them in?
Fenugreek comes from India and southern Europe, but it can be traced back centuries to India and North Africa. Because dried fenugreek has a similar taste to maple syrup. This spice and the leaves are added to teas, sweet sauces, and desserts.
In India, the whole plant is used, including the seeds for coffee and tea. The leaves and seeds are also sometimes infused in bread and are used to spice up common dishes.
You can also mix fenugreek with strong spices, including cumin, coriander, or paprika. Experts recommend you toast the leaves or seeds, and grind them, or you can use them fresh and add them at the end.
What Can I Replace Fenugreek With?
Since it can be so hard to find this ingredient, let’s talk about the best substitutes for fenugreek leaves and seeds below.
#1. Maple Syrup
There is a chemical in maple syrup named sotolone that gives it a peculiar and sweet aroma, that fenugreek leaves contain too.
Some manufacturers even add fenugreek to maple syrup during production for an enhanced aroma, so when no other option is available you can add maple syrup in its place.
You can find maple syrup anywhere, usually by the breakfast or baking section of grocery stores. We recommend you add maple syrup almost at the end for stronger flavor, and you can just try a pinch, and add as you go.
#2. Curry Powder
Since fenugreek is already being used in curry powder, using this spice shouldn’t be too far off. Curry is a powerful spice with a unique aroma and a nutty, spicy flavor.
Traditionally used for Indian food, curry has made its way to other cuisines, including Middle Eastern, northern European, and sometimes even Latin American.
Curry powder can be bought in any grocery store, but if you want to experiment with the type of curry, we recommend you go to specialty stores or a local farmer’s market.
You can add about the same amount instead of dried fenugreek, but if the recipe calls for fresh fenugreek leaves, try adding ½ a teaspoon first.
#3. Mustard Seeds
These seeds resemble fenugreek seeds more than they do the leaves, but they can be a good substitution.
These seeds have a very strong, spicy flavor, and should be used in the middle of the cooking process so the heat and oil can neutralize the intensity of these crushed seeds. Mustard seeds are used in German dishes, northern European sauces, stews, and meats.
Though not always readily available, you can try getting these seeds at your local grocery stores. Otherwise, your best shot could be a farmer’s market. We recommend you use ⅓-½ a teaspoon of these seeds.
#4. Chinese Celery Leaves
This vegetable isn’t higher on the list because it isn’t as common or easy to find, but if you do happen to have some or like to use it, then you can use it as a replacement for fenugreek leaves.
The flavor is milder and a bit bitter, but you can chop Chinese celery leaves and use them as you would fenugreek leaves.
To buy these, you should try your organic supermarket or a farmer’s market. We recommend you buy it fresh, though there are some places that sell it dry as a spice.
While this is a completely different flavor, when all other options can’t be used, you can try using fresh spinach instead.
We don’t recommend other greens because the flavor is so different, but spinach has a unique aroma and a similar texture. Spinach is considered a superfood that is high in vitamins and minerals, so it is used widely in soups, salads, and even juices.
You can buy spinach in any grocery store by the produce section, but if it’s running low, the organic store will have some as well. We suggest you chop the leaves and use them as you would fenugreek.
Try Combining Them!
If you feel like the flavor is missing or it just doesn’t come as strong as fenugreek leaves or seeds would, then you should try combining these ingredients.
Try the mustard seeds with the Chinese celery or spinach. You could also add fennel seeds to the list, and combine them with the curry or the mustard seeds. Be sure to taste these before you pick!
These two leaves aren’t the same and shouldn’t be confused. Fenugreek leaves are sweet and have a strong aroma. Curry leaves, on the other hand, are more similar to bay leaves and taste citrus and pepper-like.
Yes! You can eat the leaves safely, though the flavor may be too strong, so it’s best to cook them. The seeds are also safe and can be boiled in tea. You can eat fenugreek as much as you like, and it may do some good for your health, as it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Using the seed, though possible, is not really recommended as it may greatly change the taste of your recipe. Contrary to fenugreek leaves, the seeds have a bitter taste. Your dish might turn out bitter if your insist on using the seeds instead of the leaves.
Fenugreek leaves or seeds are a great ingredient to use in any food, but they can be hard to find, so don’t just give up on your recipe, try one of these substitutes instead.
As always, you should try the flavor first to make sure it blends well, and measure accordingly, particularly if you are using spices or seeds, which are stronger in taste.
*Photo by bdspn74/depositphotos