Also known as Greek hay, fenugreek is a spice most commonly used in Indian curries and occasionally, for medicinal purposes. Much of the rich flavor and aroma of these dishes come from this wonderful spice, which is why it’s so popular.
Fenugreek is also used in Indian chutneys and sauces and as dry rubs for meat. It’s also used in a wide range of slow-cooked dishes and specific tea blends.
The taste of fenugreek is hard to describe because of how unique it is. The best way to describe it would be to say it's a mixture of nutty and sweet flavours, much like burnt sugar.
Though the seeds' taste when they're raw is exceptionally bitter, they have a much sweeter taste when cooked in dishes.
This spice is typically available in Indian grocery stores, which is why it can be hard to find when you need it for a particular dish. However, there are many adequate substitutes for fenugreek if you cannot get your hands on the spice.
Here are some of the best fenugreek replacements you can opt for.
1. Maple syrup
Since the best way to describe the taste and flavour of fenugreek is by comparing it to that of maple syrup, it can also be used as a replacement for the spice.
Both maple syrup and fenugreek contain the ingredient sotolone responsible for the similarity in their flavours. For this reason, maple syrup is considered the best substitute for fenugreek.
However, you should use the syrup sparingly as you might not want to overpower your dish with sweetness since these dishes are not as sweet.
Maple syrup can be used in place of fenugreek leaves and seeds and should be added at the end of the cooking time. It’s recommended to add half the amount of maple syrup as is called for in the recipe.
2. Mustard seeds
This is another way to get the earthy flavor in the dish that fenugreek typically provides. Additionally, if you don't want your dish to be too sweet, this is a better substitute than maple syrup.
Try using yellow mustard seeds and slightly heat them before adding them to your dish because that will make its taste even more similar to fenugreek.
The ratio of mustard seeds to fenugreek is the same, so add the same quantity of mustard seeds as you would for fenugreek.
3. Masala curry powder
Though this is a British concoction, it has a similar taste to fenugreek because there are some hints of fenugreek added to this blend.
Moreover, finding masala curry powder at a store is much easier than finding fenugreek.
It’s recommended that you add the masala curry powder in the beginning when cooking the dish, that is, before adding any oils as that will maximize its flavours and minimize the strong taste of other spices in this blend.
Consider adding the same amount as the fenugreek powder that the recipe calls for to add this powder to your dish. However, since it has a strong flavour profile, it is recommended to add less of the powder.
4. Fennel seeds
Another option to consider for fenugreek replacement is fennel seeds. They are sweeter than fenugreek, but if you need to use them for rubbing on meat, then fennel seeds work well, too.
Because fennel seeds have a strong sweet flavour, it’s recommended that you add a small quantity of fennel seeds in place of fenugreek. Perhaps half the amount of what is called for in the recipe.
5. Chinese celery leaves
These leaves are plucked, washed, and cut to resemble fenugreek leaves. Hence, they can work as a suitable replacement for fenugreek, especially in a sauce or chutney. They provide a nutty and bitter flavor, so it’s best that you add half the amount of Chinese celery leaves than what is mentioned in the recipe for fenugreek.
For example, if the recipe states that you add one tablespoon of fenugreek leaves, you should add half a tablespoon of Chinese celery leaves. Furthermore, add a little bit of sugar, too.
The bottom line
Fenugreek is a versatile ingredient that is popular in predominantly Indian and Mediterranean dishes. Contrary to popular belief, there are several substitutes for fenugreek that you can use if you run out of it.
I also recommend combining two of these substitutes, namely maple syrup, and mustard seeds, for optimum flavor. Again, remember to start with a smaller quantity and then build it up.
- Maple syrup
- Pick maple syrup as a substitute for fenugreek.
- Use the syrup sparingly as you might not want to overpower your dish.
- It’s recommended that you add half the amount of maple syrup as is called for in the recipe.