Have you ever heard of a square-shaped seed? That’s Fenugreek! This cute little seed is popular in a variety of Indian recipes. It is also known for having a variety of medicinal purposes as well.
Despite its utility, it can be hard to find in your average grocery store, and some people prefer to skip it altogether. The substitutes that are best suited will depend on the recipes you are using.
If you are making a curry, curry powder or garam masala can be an easy and convenient swap. Maple syrup or honey mustard are great substitutes in chutney, while mustard seeds or powder are better in dry rubs for meats.
Finally, if you are looking to make your own spice mixture, fennel seeds or celery seeds can do in a pinch! This article will go over some of the best swaps out there and how to use them and answer a few commonly asked questions about fenugreek!
- In Curry
- In Chutney
- In Dry Rubs For Meat
- In Spice Mixtures
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Considerations
Fenugreek seed is a spice commonly used across Asia and the Mediterranean, but it is an especially popular spice in Indian cuisine. Many spice mixes contain fenugreek, as it adds a sweet and subtly bitter flavor that balances other flavors very nicely.
Many traditional curries contain fenugreek because of its subtle sweetness which can accentuate the flavors of the vegetables, meats, and cheeses found in curry.
Did you know that most curry powders actually contain ground fenugreek in them? It’s true! The subtle sweetness that you get from curry powder typically comes from the fenugreek in it.
If you are looking for a quick swap, curry powder is an easy choice that is sitting in the back of most people’s cupboards. While a traditional curry will be built up over time using freshly ground spices, a few teaspoons of curry powder can make a simple and quick curry come together in no time.
To use curry powder in place of fenugreek seed, the ratio will really depend on quite a lot on how many fresh spices you are adding or skipping. If you are opting to use a curry powder over most of the fresh spices listed, a simple 1:1 ratio by volume works well.
If you are only replacing fenugreek, use about ½ a teaspoon of curry powder for every teaspoon of fenugreek seeds. It will not carry as much of an intense fenugreek flavor, but if you add more than that the dish may become overpowering.
While western cooks are often quite familiar with curry powder, they are not always aware of its lesser-known cousin, garam masala. Garam masala is a traditional Indian spice mix made of a number of warm spices such as cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, bay leaf, and often fenugreek.
Like curry powder, it’s not a perfect swap because the spice mix will only contain a small amount of fenugreek, and some don’t contain any at all. But, it will certainly add a lovely warm kick to your recipes that you will hardly miss the fenugreek.
Chutney is a catch-all term for Indian sauces and relishes, and can range from relishes and yogurt sauces to dishes very closely resembling jam. Fenugreek is a commonly used spice in many types of chutneys because it imparts a sweetness to the dish, perfect for these little side dishes that accompany the typical main dishes in a meal.
Fenugreek is said to taste maple syrup, which is why it makes such a great substitute. In fact, when making imitation maple syrup, fenugreek seed extract is used to impart the maple syrup flavor! While you will not get the same texture of fenugreek seed, the aroma and taste will be very similar.
The lovely subtle sweetness you would normally get from the fenugreek seeds can be mirrored perfectly with a splash of maple syrup. To use maple syrup in place of fenugreek, use only half the amount of maple syrup to fenugreek seed. Adjust as needed to the taste.
Honey mustard is another great swap in a pinch for fenugreek seeds. Why? The sweetness from the honey and the sharpness of the mustard makes a great pairing that can imitate the flavors of fenugreek seed very nicely.
It’s not a perfect fit, but it gets the job done well. Many chutneys benefit from the sharpness of the mustard, as it can cut through the sweetness of the jammier chutneys.
The key is to be judicious with which replacements you are using -while honey mustard may not work as well in cucumber raita, it can accentuate a mango chutney nicely. Honey mustard can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace fenugreek seeds.
In Dry Rubs For Meat
Fenugreek seed is a popular spice to add to dry rubs because of that subtle sweetness and the slightly bitter aftertaste that it has. If you are looking for an easy spice to add into your dry rub when fenugreek is not easily available, mustard in a few different forms can be a quick swap that is easy to find and may even be in your cupboard!
Mustard seeds have a powerful kick to them. The sharpness is often described as hitting through the nose, as opposed to a more traditional spiciness that may tickle the back of the throat or make your tongue feel that it is on fire. Mustard seed offers a sharp and bitter flavor that mirrors the taste of fenugreek seed, making it an ideal swap in dry rubs.
If you are looking to accentuate the sweetness of fenugreek as well, a splash of maple syrup, in addition, can be a great combo to target the two flavors found in fenugreek seed. You can substitute mustard seeds for fenugreek seeds in a 1:1 ratio.
The mustard powder may be an even easier swap, especially if your recipe calls for ground fenugreek instead of whole seeds. This powder is very fine, and as such, it can really penetrate meats well and impart its sharp flavor even better than the whole seeds.
Mustard powder also blends very easily with other spices and sweeteners, making it easy to mix up your own customized fenugreek substitute by adding a bit of maple syrup to it. Since the mustard powder is so potent in comparison to whole seeds, use only half the amount of powder that you would whole fenugreek seeds.
In Spice Mixtures
There are many spice mixtures that call for fenugreek seed. Some of the most popular ones include curry powder, garam masala, or Ethiopian berbere. When using fenugreek seed in a spice powder, the fenugreek is typically providing sharpness and a subtle sweetness. The swaps we offer below can hit those notes in a pinch without changing the entire flavor profile of the spice mixture.
Fennel seeds are known for having subtle anise or licorice flavor, which is slightly sweet in aroma and flavor. This subtle sweetness makes fennel seeds a great swap for fenugreek seeds in a curry powder or berbere mix. When making a spice mixture, all of the spices are ground together. Then, they are added to dishes usually at the end of the cooking process.
It grinds up very easily and can accentuate other spices when working in tandem with spices to create a beautiful and rich flavor. When swapping fennel seeds for fenugreek seeds, use only half as much fennel seed as fenugreek seed, as fennel is a very strong flavor that can become overpowering.
Celery seeds are another wonderful swap one can use in place of fenugreek seeds in spice mixtures. It will not offer the sweetness of fenugreek seed, but it will offer an earthy and bitter flavor similar to the bitter notes of fenugreek seed. While it is not a perfect swap, it can do the job in a pinch!
Celery seed can be used in a 1:1 ratio in place of fenugreek seed. However, if fenugreek is being used to add sweetness to a spice mix, reduce it by half and add a pinch of sugar to the mix in its place. This will balance out the sweetness and the bitterness together that fenugreek typically offers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Fenugreek And Fennel The Same?
Though they have very similar names, fenugreek and fennel are not the same. Fenugreek seed is actually a type of legume, while fennel seed is a real seed. Fenugreek is also known as methi, and the leaves are commonly used in Indian cooking.
Fennel seed comes from the fennel plant, which is a bulbous plant that grows underground. The two seeds have very different flavor profiles, but because they are both slightly sweet can sometimes be used interchangeably in recipes if done judiciously.
What Is Fenugreek Used For?
Fenugreek is popular in a variety of spice mixes around the world and is used to flavor many meat-based dishes and desserts. However, fenugreek also has medicinal properties.
It is used in many modern medicines to hide the bad taste of medicines. Fenugreek is also used in teas to promote lactation in new mothers. It has also been used to ease PMS symptoms including erratic mood and hot flashes.
Where Can I Find Fenugreek Seeds?
Some grocery stores will carry fenugreek seeds in the spice aisle. Any Indian and many Asian specialty stores will carry fenugreek seeds. In a pinch, you can easily order them online from wholesalers through sites such as Etsy or Amazon.
Whether you are looking to make a delicious curry, a scrumptious chutney, or a beautiful spice mixture, fenugreek seed is a fantastic flavor that can add both bitterness and sweetness to your recipes.
Because of this duality, there are many easy swaps out there depending on what you are hoping to highlight in your recipe. We hope this guide gives you some ideas for your next cooking adventure with fenugreek seeds!
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I worked in the accounting field. I am also a Certified Food Handler. My goal is to be an informative source for any topic that relates to mom’s life and homemaking.