Fenugreek is by no means a popular and widely used and thought about ingredient. In fact, for many of you, you may just be encountering it for the first time and finding yourself unable to find it. This is because it is so rarely spotted in its pure form as it is generally only available to us as part of a larger spice blend.
Fenugreek mostly comes in the form of a prefabricated blend of spices which is then used as a curry powder for making Indian-style dishes. But its usefulness transcends just this. It can also be used to make chutneys and can form an integral part of a nice dry rub. So, for those among us who have a passion for cooking true to form Indian cuisine, having some of this leaf to hand isn’t a bad call.
QUICK ANSWER: As it can be difficult to find fresh or dry leaves outside of India, cooks may substitute them with other ingredients to achieve the same taste. Some common substitutes for fenugreek are maple syrup, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, curry powder, and mustard seeds with maple syrup.
Best Substitutes for Fenugreek
However, seeing as it is so uncommon and difficult to locate, the chances are that you have found yourself needing to substitute for it relatively quickly perhaps even right now? Well, thankfully there are a few reasonable substitutes out there, though choosing one can be a difficult process.
This is due to the fact that nothing quite tastes exactly the same as fenugreek. It is quite unique and bizarre in the sense that its flavor profile has an almost maple-like sweetness which is offset by an undercurrent of bitterness. It is also fantastically aromatic. So, with that in mind, none of the substitutes below are going to replicate that unique palette completely, but they will get you as close as humanly possible. Here, in no particular order, is our rundown of the best substitutes for fenugreek that money can buy!
1. Maple syrup
When asked to describe the flavor of fenugreek, we can’t think of a better way to describe it than “like maple syrup, but with a bit of celery chucked in there too”. Naturally then, it makes sense to begin our rundown with the first similar ingredient that comes to mind. But, there is also a certain logic here. See, maple syrup tastes so much like fennel syrup that it is actually an ingredient in imitation maple syrup!
However, there is a clear and obvious difference between the two which can become a problem during the cooking process. Maple syrup is very sweet, whereas fenugreek simply isn’t. To remedy this, our best advice is to use maple syrup sparingly as a substitute, use the best quality stuff available, and only add it toward the end of cooking.
2. Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds are a pretty divisive ingredient in the culinary world. People either seem to love them or hate them, with very few holding the opinion that they are ‘just okay’. However, if you are in the camp that enjoys this flavor, it can be used to replicate the flavor of fenugreek, with a little extra effort.
Because the flavor of fennel can tend to make its presence known and come to the fore of the palette, it needs to be used in moderation to generate the best effects. Because of this, we would suggest that the best approach is to use considerably less than you think you need, gradually adding more and tasting as you go. Fennel seeds are comparatively easier to find than fenugreek.
3. Mustard seeds
As of yet, we haven’t really approached a method of getting the earthy tones in fenugreek into your recipe. Thankfully, mustard seeds, particularly yellow mustard seeds have quite a bit to offer in that department. They are simultaneously sweet, earthy, and bitter – all of which are properties of fenugreek!
For the best result possible, try heating the mustard seed slightly first, letting its distinctive aroma evaporate from the seed. After this, you will be left with only the flavor of the seed, which should now taste even more like fenugreek. Mustard seeds are widely available, and there is a chance you may have some in your kitchen right now.
4. Curry powder
This substitute makes the list not because it is a brilliant substitute that would fool anyone, but instead because it is so readily available. In addition, many curry powders will contain a certain amount of fenugreek – nowhere near enough for it to be the dominant flavor, but enough that similar flavors can be produced.
So, in terms of using this substitute, the best advice we can give is to cook some of the powder on low heat in some oil before using it. This should lessen the effect of the more potent flavors (cardamom etc.), leaving a more rounded flavor that should suffice as a substitute in the case of an emergency. Curry powder can be found pretty much anywhere, with the best examples generally coming from your local Asian store.
5. Mustard seeds with maple syrup
Sometimes the best way to replicate the flavor of an ingredient is to combine two other ingredients that each have a few properties of the desired ingredient. With mustard making up for all of the qualities of fenugreek, all that remains to do is to add a little dash of maple syrup near the end of cooking to add that slight sweetness. It may sound a little unorthodox, but it works and will make you feel like an alchemist!
We hope that you found this guide to substituting for fenugreek to be an invaluable and informative source as you embarked on your quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may already be lurking in your kitchen as you read this!
We invite you to review the following questions and answers section for some additional information that just might be of some use to you.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a small plant that grows to a height between 2-3 feet tall. It has green leaves, white flowers, and produces pods that house its small brown seeds.
How do you eat fenugreek seeds?
There are a few ways to consume fenugreek. It can be eaten after soaking it overnight to help with weight loss. You can eat the sprout as it grows and add it to salads. Most commonly, it is ground into a powder or made into a paste and used in conjunction with other spices to add to curries, meats, and vegetables.
Where is fenugreek grown?
Fenugreek is native to Southern Asia but can be found being cultivated as far north as Southern Europe.