Fenugreek (also known as Methi) is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae, with leaves consisting of three small obovate to oblong leaflets. It is cultivated worldwide as a semiarid crop. Its seeds and leaves are common ingredients in dishes from South and Central Asia.
Fenugreek is believed to have been brought into cultivation in the Near East. It is uncertain which wild strain of the genus Trigonella gave rise to domesticated fenugreek, charred fenugreek seeds have been recovered from Tell Halal, Iraq (carbon dated to 4000 BC), and Bronze Age levels of Lachish and desiccated seeds from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Cato the Elder lists fenugreek with clover and vetch as crops grown to feed cattle.
Fenugreek is used as a herb (dried or fresh leaves), spice (seeds), and vegetable (fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens). Sotolon is the chemical responsible for the distinctive maple syrup smell of fenugreek. Fresh fenugreek leaves are an ingredient in some curries, such as with potatoes in cuisines of the Indian subcontinent to make “aloo methi” (“potato fenugreek”) curry.
When harvested as greens, fenugreek is known as samudra methi in Maharashtra, especially in and around Mumbai, where it is often grown in sandy tracts near the sea, hence the name samudra, “ocean” in Sanskrit. Samudra methi is also grown in dry river beds in the Gangetic plains. When sold as a vegetable, the young plants are harvested with their roots still attached and sold in small bundles in the markets and bazaars. Any remaining soil is washed off to extend their shelf life.
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