• Fenugreek Seed vs. Fenugreek Leaf: Notes from My Kitchen

    There has been a lot of chatter on the forum lately regarding fenugreek tea as a slip-giving agent. I've been using it as a detangling spray with happy results for the better part of a year. However, LHCers who aren't familiar with fenugreek as a cooking ingredient are often confused as to whether they ought to be using fenugreek seed or fenugreek leaf--or, for that matter, which kind of fenugreek they have wound up buying. As a public service/silly science experiment, I have taken comparative photographs of all the different kinds of fenugreek in my house. Wonder no more!

    What is fenugreek?

    Fenugreek is part of a family of wild plants that are common over much of Eurasia; this particular type has been cultivated as a food crop between South Asia through the Mediterranean basin for the past few millennia. The whole plant can be eaten fresh. The dried leaves are used as an herb while the dried seeds are used as a spice. Like many herbs and spices, it has some degree of toxicity but is safe for most people to eat in ordinary quantities. People who are allergic to legumes, peanuts, or coriander/cilantro are more likely to also have allergies to fenugreek.

    How can fenugreek be used for hair?

    Fenugreek seeds are extremely mucilaginous (AKA "gooey"). Like other plants with a lot of mucilage--such as flax, licorice, chia, or slippery elm--you can use it to give your hair slip. I prefer to use fenugreek tea as a detangler on otherwise dry hair. Others use it in homemade conditioners or as a rinse after washing the hair with conventional products. While your hair is wet with fenugreek tea, it will feel a little "gooey" or "slimy," making it easier to detangle. After drying, it leaves my hair a little softer than usual; those with straighter hair may notice some extra shine. The fenugreek tea leaves behind no perceptible residue and the texture of the hair will return to normal after rinsing with plain water. Fenugreek tea has a yellowish color but I have not heard any reports of it tinting hair.

    How do I make fenugreek tea?

    This is the method I use. I place a handful of whole fenugreek seeds in a one-quart container (ca. 950 ml) and then fill the container the rest of the way with boiling water. After allowing the mixture to cool to room temperature, I strain the seeds out with a sieve and funnel the tea itself into a spray bottle for easy use. I typically go through this amount over the course of a month. I'm certain the responsible thing to do would be to refrigerate the spray bottle, but I have not had any problem with the tea going bad over that period of time. The soaked seeds can be eaten; more on that below. Here's what some fenugreek tea looks like against a white ceramic bowl:


    What kind of fenugreek should I get for hair?

    To reiterate, if you want to use fenugreek on your hair, you want fenugreek seeds--not fenugreek leaves. While delicious, fenugreek leaves are not particularly mucilaginous. Seeds are most commonly sold whole and leaves are most commonly sold ground, although there are exceptions in both cases. Conveniently, I find the whole seeds much easier to strain. You can refer to the comparison images below to see what whole seeds look like at the center top of the plate. If you prefer to buy fenugreek seeds locally rather than ordering online, you may have luck at North African, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, or South Asian groceries. Apart from "fenugreek," most languages use a word for this ingredient that is similar either to the Semitic "helba" or the Indo-Aryan "methi."

    Help! What's in this random container labeled "fenugreek"?

    Pretending that this plate is a clockface, here are examples of: 12:00, dry whole fenugreek seed; 1:30, soaked whole fenugreek seed; 3:00, dry commercially ground fenugreek seed; 4:30, soaked commercially ground fenugreek seed; 6:00, dry ground fenugreek leaf; 7:30, soaked ground fenugreek leaf; 9:00, dry home-ground fenugreek seed; 10:30, soaked home-ground fenugreek seed. https://i.postimg.cc/3J0s4bqF/fenugreek.jpg

    The kind that you want for your hair is at "noon," underneath the penny. Whole fenugreek seeds tend to be roughly rectangular in shape and about 2-3 mm long. They are also very hard. Here's a close-up:


    Once the seeds have been soaked to make tea, they will expand by about 50% of their volume. Soaked fenugreek seeds are soft on the inside, but the skin of the seed still has a "bite" to it. I would describe their texture as being similar to cooked hulled barley. Here's a close-up:


    There are a few different characteristics that can help you tell the difference between ground fenugreek seeds and ground fenugreek leaves, but the simplest test is to mix a little with water. Ground fenugreek seeds will absorb the water rapidly, take on a gummy texture, and expand in size. In the few minutes it took me to snap these photographs, the ground seeds had absorbed enough water that they had become doughlike; the entire piece could be picked up like a solid object. Ground fenugreek leaves, on the other hand, mix with water into a very smooth slurry or paste.

    You can use ground fenugreek seeds to make an effective tea for your hair, although a larger proportion of water will be needed to make it and straining the seeds out is a bit of a pain. Compared to the leaves, the same volume of ground fenugreek seeds will weigh less. Even the commercially prepared powder tends to be comparatively gritty and rough; the color is much more yellowish than fenugreek leaves. Here's a close-up:


    Dry powdered fenugreek leaf is extremely light, fluffy, and "dusty." Rather than being gritty, it feels almost soft to the touch. (The texture is actually pretty similar to henna powder.) Compared to the ground seeds, the color is much duller, more of a pale beige or off-white. Here's a close-up:


    Help! What can I do with this fenugreek leaf powder?

    Fenugreek leaf is less common than fenugreek seeds in my own family's cooking, but it is used in many delicious Persian and Indian dishes. It has a sweetish flavor. Here's a Persian-style stew recipe that I have enjoyed: saute a chopped onion in plenty of oil, then add a pound each of finely chopped cilantro, parsley, and green onions. Cook until all the moisture has gone out of the the onions/herbs and they are nicely browned. Stir in a handful of dry fenugreek leaf. Cover the vegetables in water and season with salt, pepper, turmeric, and black lime. Add parboiled kidney beans. Simmer everything together for about a half an hour.

    Help! What can I do with this fenugreek seed powder?

    Upper Egyptians commonly eat ground fenugreek seeds in sourdough bread. Here is a method that uses dry yeast instead: mix equal parts corn flour, wheat flour, and water. Add a spoonful each of bread yeast and sugar. This mixture will be wet and sloppy. Let it sit for an hour or so, then stir in salt. Knead in enough ground fenugreek seed to form a stiff dough (it takes a lot less than you might think because it's so absorptive). Divide into pieces the size of your two fists together. Roll or pat out each piece into a circle an inch tall at the center. Let them sit for another hour to poof up. Cook the breads in a fast oven about fifteen minutes.

    Help! What can I do with these soaked fenugreek seeds?

    Here are two different Lower Egyptian-style recipes from my family.

    For unleavened bread: Mash the soaked seeds into a paste. Mix one part seed paste into three parts dry flour. Add salt and a splash of oil. Mix together until everything is a "breadcrumb" texture. Start kneading and adding water bit by bit, incorporating as much water as the dough will possibly absorb. Cover and let sit for a half an hour. Then pull off ping-pong-ball-sized bits and roll them out to 1-2 mm thick. Heat a pan very hot. Cook each bread halfway done on either side; then grab it with tongs and hold it over the flame so the steam puffs them up. Spread on some butter to keep them flexible.

    For cake: rub together one part wheat flour and three parts semolina with enough melted butter to make a similar breadcrumb texture. Then add your soaked fenugreek seeds, dry yeast, and enough warm milk to make the dough come together. Pat it into a greased pan, cut into pieces, and let it sit an hour. Bake in a fast oven. Meanwhile, boil two parts sugar to one part water. You can add a cinnamon stick, some pepper grains, cardamoms, or whatever other flavor you like. Once the syrup has cooled, mix in lime juice until it is as sweet/sour as you want. When the cake is dry in the middle, take it out of the oven and pour the syrup all over top. Let sit till it is all the way cool so the syrup absorbs fully. We like it with tea : )
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Fenugreek Seed vs. Fenugreek Leaf: Notes from My Kitchen started by shelomit View original post
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