Desi superfoods Food

The bitter marvels of fenugreek

Given its very distinctive and slightly bitter taste, fenugreek may not be a popular spice in world cuisines but therapeutically, its properties are unquestioned. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat  

The word fenugreek, derived from its botanical name Trigonella foenum-graecum, may not seem very inspiring at first; but a closer scrutiny of this legume reveals its marvels. Fenugreek, known as venthiyam in Tamil and methi in Hindi, is one of the oldest cultivated plants. This native of South Eastern Europe and West Asia is now extensively cultivated in India where its seeds and leaves are an important flavouring ingredient in many regional cuisines.

Given its very distinctive and slightly bitter taste, fenugreek may not be a popular spice in world cuisines but therapeutically, its properties are unquestioned; both the seed as well as its green leaves are highly valued pharmaceutically as it is a rich source of phytonutrients such as thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B6 and C, with the leaves boasting of Vitamin K; it also contains various minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and manganese.

A common house remedy for reducing and controlling the sugar levels of non-insulin dependent diabetics consists of soaking about 1/2 tsp of methi seeds in a little water overnight and gulping the water and seeds first thing in the morning. It has been found that fenugreek is so far the only plant containing an unusual amino acid, known as 4 hydro isoleucine (4 HO-ILE), an element which could help enhance insulin secretion under hyperglycemic conditions, thus increasing insulin sensitivity. An ICMR report also reveals that consuming 25-100 gm of fenugreek seeds a day diminishes hyperglycemia, while significantly reducing levels of glucose serum cholesterol and triglycerides.

Since the seeds are mucilaginous, they are also effective in soothing heartburns and gastro-intestinal inflammation as they coat the stomach and intestinal lining. This property is significantly helpful in case of ulcers.

The steroidal saponins, which fenugreek contains, help reduce absorption of cholesterol from fatty foods. The diogenin present in it is actually used to make a semi-synthetic form of estrogen. In fact, methi seems to be a very woman-friendly ingredient: at the onset of puberty, to prevent anaemia in young girls, they are fed with the cooked leaves. The seeds are said to increase milk flow and they help post-partum mothers tone up their reproductive system after delivery. For this reason, in some communities, the seeds are fried in ghee, finely powdered and mixed with wheat flour and sugar to prepare a halwa for new mothers.

Cosmetically too, both methi leaves and seeds work wonders for the hair and the skin. A paste of fresh leaves, applied to the scalp regularly, helps lengthen hair and prevent premature greying. At night, applied to the face and washed with warm water, it helps clear the skin and prevent early appearance of wrinkles. A paste made from the seeds that have been soaked overnight, when applied to the scalp, helps reduce dandruff and other minor fungal or bacterial infections.

Fenugreek also promotes well being: it is a powerful detoxifier, increasing colonic health and overall body cleansing, eliminating bad breath and body odour. For best results, it is advised to have a tea made from fenugreek seeds. To prepare it, just soak one teaspoon of seeds in one cup of boiling water for some time; you may add a teaspoon of honey to the brew. This tea also soothes inflamed stomach and intestines while cleansing the stomach, bowels, kidneys and respiratory tract of excess mucus.

On the culinary front, when using seeds, lightly toast them to reduce bitterness and enhance aroma and flavour. Methi seeds are used for pickling and are a component of the Bengali spice blend called panch phoron. They are also used in various curries. As for the leaves, they can be used fresh or dried; a tasty pulao can be made using peas and fresh methi leaves; you can also add the chopped up leaves to vada or pakoda batter. For an unusual and highly palatable “bitter-sweet” experience, try gajjar methi sabzi, packed with the goodness of beta-carotene and various micronutrients. It is also fairly easy to make; all you need to do is heat up some oil, preferably cold pressed mustard or coconut, season it with cumin seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, coriander powder, red chili powder, turmeric powder and then add diced carrots; when carrots are slightly soft, add cut up fenugreek leaves. Regarding the dried leaves, kasoori methi, coming from the region of Kasoor in Pakistan, which gives it its name, is the most flavourful; but similar varieties, also called kasoori methi are available on this side of the frontier too. A spoonful of it can take any gravy or bake to another level. You can also use them to enhance the taste of breads and rotis.

Taste, health and beauty, this super food is a super performer on all these three fronts. So why not swallow this “bitter pill” eagerly for some bitter experiences seem to be well worth it.

World-renowned seed activist Vandana Shiva and Navdanya Director Maya Goburdhun believe in the power of local superfoods. Navdanya is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge, culture and forgotten foods.

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Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 7:10:00 AM |

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