You’re in the kitchen cooking a fantastic meal for your family and realize that the recipe calls for fenugreek. What is fenugreek? What should you do if you don’t have any in your spice rack?
This guide will share everything you need to know about fenugreek and its possible substitutes. Whether you simply don’t have any in your home or you prefer to use another ingredient, we’ll share with you the top 5 fenugreek substitutes for any chef.
What is Fenugreek?
Technically, fenugreek is an herb that comes in both seeds and leaves forms. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia areas, mainly cultivated in India, where families enjoy the spice in various dishes.
When eaten raw, fenugreek seeds and leaves have a bitter taste. However, when you cook fenugreek, it tastes sweet, almost like maple syrup and burnt sugar. Most people will cook fenugreek in a sauce as a thickening agent, but you can also apply it as a dry rub on meat.
Fenugreek is also known as Greek hay and is an annual plant that many use for medical reasons. According to healtline.com, fenugreek was used for thousands of years in alternative and Chinese medicines to treat skin conditions, among other diseases.
Several health benefits come with eating fenugreek, including lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduced heartburn, anti-inflammatory effects, and appetite control.
You can find fenugreek extracts in many everyday products found around the house, such as soap, shampoo, and cosmetics. The herb is also found in certain teas, condiments, and imitation maple syrup products.
While fenugreek may not be as common as salt and pepper, or other herbs such as parsley or sage, in the United States, if you’re cooking an Indian dish, you will want to have some in your pantry. Or consider using a fenugreek leaves substitute so that you get close to the flavor and texture that the dish requires.
Recommended Fenugreek Substitutes
Whether you don’t have fenugreek in your kitchen or you simply want to find an alternative, there are a few items that can do the trick.
We have also found that combining some of these ingredients (specifically the first 2) is another option for your fenugreek substitution.
1. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is by far the best fenugreek substitute that we have found. There is a reason fenugreek is included in imitation maple syrup products; the two flavors are very similar in taste (sweet with bitter undertones) and consistency.
You probably have maple syrup in your pantry for those pancake breakfast mornings. And although it sounds odd, adding a small amount of maple syrup to your dish is a great way to substitute fenugreek.
The thickness of maple syrup also brings the right consistency to the dish that fenugreek usually provides. You will want to add a small pinch of maple syrup towards the end of the cooking time as the syrup loses its flavor the longer it is cooked.
You can use maple syrup as a fenugreek substitute for its seeds and leaves. Here is one of our favorite maple syrups that we use instead of fenugreek.
While maple syrup is our number one choice for substituting fenugreek, yellow mustard seeds are closed. And sometimes we will combine the two, yellow mustard seeds and a small amount of maple syrup, for a perfect fenugreek substitute combination.
2. Mustard Seeds – Fenugreek Seed Substitute
When someone says “mustard,” you may think of the yellow condiment that adds great flavor to hot dogs or hamburgers. However, there are several different mustard flavors and mustard forms. Did you know that there are three types of mustard seeds?
For our purposes, we will leave the yellow condiment with the ketchup. Instead, you will want to get yellow mustard seeds as a fenugreek seeds substitute, and mustard greens as fenugreek leaves substitute. You can also use mustard powder as a substitute for fenugreek powder.
Our preference is yellow mustard seeds simply because of the taste quality equaling fenugreek. Yellow mustard seeds have the same mild bitter taste with some earthy or nut flavors that you find in fenugreek.
Yellow mustard seeds are perfect for savory sauces or soups that require fenugreek. To create the same fenugreek taste, simply heat the mustard seeds at a low temperature. You will want to add the same amount of mustard seeds as the recipe requires of fenugreek seeds.
You can also add a teaspoon of honey-dijon mustard if you don’t have any yellow mustard seeds available. Again, the mustard taste is a close second to the flavors of fenugreek.
3. Curry Powder/Masala
Sometimes curry powder is easier to find than fenugreek. And while you may not have fenugreek in your spice rack, most curry powders contain fenugreek powder, so you’re all set!
Masala, or garam masala, is a similar spice blend also commonly used in Indian dishes, although it’s considered spicier than curry. Masala contains various aromatic spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom that are not found in curry powder. But the taste profile and thickening agent of marsala make it a suitable fenugreek alternative.
Curry was created in Britain and tastes similar to masala; however, our preference is curry powder because of the fenugreek ingredient and milder profile.
Whichever powder you choose, add the spices at the beginning of the cooking time to maximize the taste and aroma of the dish.
4. Fennel Seeds
Although fennel seeds can overwhelm the flavors of a dish, a small dose of the sweet seeds is a good substitute for fenugreek.
Fennel is a flowering plant in the carrot family with seeds that are commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and European dishes. Fennel bulbs and fennel seeds have similar scents as licorice or maple.
You can use a dried fennel seed or chopped fennel bulb as an alternative to fenugreek. Both fennel seeds and bulbs are sweeter than fenugreek seeds but do a decent job copying the nutty and sweet flavors found in fenugreek.
We recommend only using a small amount when using fennel as a fenugreek substitute, again the fennel seed can overwhelm a dish, and a small amount will go far in the flavor profile.
Related Article: Recommended Fennel Seeds Substitute
5. Celery Leaves
Even though it’s not a spice, celery leaves make for excellent fenugreek alternatives. Celery leaves are commonly found in supermarkets, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets around the world. If you can’t find fenugreek or don’t have any in your kitchen, grab some celery leaves and start cooking.
Celery leaves have a nutty and bitter flavor that is similar to fenugreek. However, celery leaves are not sweet, and you may miss that fenugreek maple flavor. We recommend adding a small amount of sugar to the sauce to help sweeten it and taste more like fenugreek.
When cooking celery leaves, you will first pluck, rinse, and chop the leaves to replicate fenugreek leaves. Chinese celery works well if available, although it’s not as common as regular celery. You can also use celery seeds as a last resort.
Other Fenugreek Leaves Substitutes
A mixture of maple syrup and mustard seeds is our favorite fenugreek substitution, although curry powder, fennel seeds, and celery leaves are good alternatives.
Several other leafy green options can do the trick; if you are in a pinch, consider these other substitutes for fenugreek:
1. Alfalfa Sprouts
We consider alfalfa a substitute to the substitute. Because alfalfa sprouts have a similar taste to celery leaves, we use alfalfa instead if we don’t have celery leaves.
So, in this case, if you don’t have fenugreek, then use celery leaves; and if you don’t have celery leaves, then use alfalfa. It’s two doors down from the original taste you are trying to duplicate, but it is still an option.
Alfalfa has a similar nutty and sweet flavor and isn’t far off to the original taste profile you get with fenugreek.
If you’re creating a casserole that calls for fenugreek, consider cooked kale as an alternative for fenugreek. You will want to cook the kale to reduce the leaves’ bitterness and add some sugar (or sugar replacement such as stevia) to add sweetness to the dish.
You will want to wash and chop the kale leaves before cooking and then add the cooked kale to the sauce or dish at the beginning of the cooking time.
Kale is a popular leafy vegetable that is part of the cabbage family. Their leaves are either curly or smooth and come in green and purple variations. Kale is very nutritious and provides several health benefits to your diet.
Like kale, spinach is a leafy green with tons of nutritional value. Using spinach instead of fenugreek may slightly change the dish’s flavor, but the vegetable resembles the aroma and texture of the spice, so it makes for a suitable substitute.
Collard greens is another leafy vegetable that can be used as a fenugreek substitute in texture and aroma.
It is important to note that while any of the above ingredients are great substitutes for fenugreek, we do not recommend that you substitute fenugreek seeds for fenugreek leaves or vice versa.
The flavor profiles are entirely different, and this substitution would change the dish altogether. Instead, stick to maple syrup, yellow mustard seeds, or any previously mentioned ingredients for the perfect fenugreek substitution.