Finding a fenugreek substitute is a challenge thanks to its unique flavor. It’s a popular spice commonly used in curry powder blends like garam masala. If you can’t seem to get your hands on this ingredient, then keep reading. You’re going to discover a range of alternatives to fenugreek that are surprisingly common.
Fenugreek seeds substitute
1. Mustard seeds and maple syrup
This combination sounds a little far fetched, but it’s our best recommendation. Your best bet is to use yellow mustard seeds, although brown will also do the job. Add the same quantity of mustard as fenugreek called for in the recipe. Then include a splash of maple syrup.
Why it works: Mustard provides a similar mildly bitter, earthiness that you also get from fenugreek. The maple syrup mimics the flavor and aroma imparted by the fenugreek seed.
2. Masala curry powder
Masala powder with a sprinkle of toasted sugar (brown sugar is best). Masala provides sweetness thanks to the addition of cinnamon. Cloves give a pungency that provides some similarity to fenugreek.
3. Curry powder
Curry powder is a British creation, and it does have a similar flavor profile to masala. However, curry powder usually contains fenugreek in its ingredients, so it’s well worth using as a substitute.
4. Fennel seeds
Fennel has a characteristic taste of anise so it won’t work in every dish as a back-up fenugreek ingredient. If you’re making a meat rub or need to grind up a spice mix, then you can use fennel seeds. The result will be different but still enjoyable.
Fennel seeds can overpower a dish if you get heavy-handed so go easy. You could also add some lightly toasted, crushed mustard seeds to balance out the sweetness of the fennel.
5. Celery or Chinese celery
Celery offers a slightly bitter flavor that you also get from fenugreek. If you’re making a spice mix, then use celery seeds.
- If you’re cooking Indian you may also need a substitute for turmeric.
- Up your Indian cuisine knowledge – Saag paneer vs palak paneer.
The best alternative for fenugreek leaves
1. Mustard greens
A spicy, bitter-tasting leaf that can be used raw or cooked.
2. Kale or spinach
Cook these greens before serving to reduce their bitter taste. They’re a good option for casseroles and curries that use fenugreek leaves.
What is fenugreek used for in the kitchen?
- The leaves are used as a herb in sauces, bread, and soups.
- Enhance curry powder blends such as panch phoran.
- The seeds work as a flavorsome spice, slow-cooked to enhance their flavor.
- Infused in tea or as a coffee substitute.
- Use as a meat rub and in chutneys.
As a spice, it works well with bitter-tasting vegetables like kale and rapini leaves. It will hold its own against the more overwhelming spices like paprika and coriander. The key to cooking fenugreek is to toast the seeds a little and then grind them fresh. Remember the golden rule: a little goes a long way!
Watch a quick video for substitutes
What does Fenugreek taste like?
The best way to describe fenugreek would be to say it’s a cross between celery and maple. It is used by fake maple syrup manufacturers to produce their maple syrup! Fenugreek is also a difficult flavor to pin down because it changes during cooking.
Eaten raw without anything to go with it, you’ll find this herb extremely bitter. But, when cooked with complementary spices and aromatics, you’ll be impressed. It adds sweetness combined with a dialed-down bitterness. The maple syrup taste morphs into a more appropriate dark caramel that lifts a palak paneer to new levels.
The seeds are the most widely used part of fenugreek – they are usually dried and ground. The leaves are often used in cooking as well.
Quick fact: Maple syrup and fenugreek both contain a chemical compound, sotolone, which makes their taste similar.
How to cook butter chicken without fenugreek
The chicken marinade
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 2 tsp garlic paste
- 2 Tbsp masala (powder or paste)
- ½ cup yogurt
- 1lb chicken breast, cubed
- 1 ½ Tbsp vegetable oil
The butter chicken sauce
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 2 tsp garlic paste
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (14.5oz)
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp masala (powder or paste)
To make the chicken
- Combine ginger, garlic, masala, and yogurt in a bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed.
- Mix in chicken until the meat is coated then cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.
To make the sauce
- Add butter and vegetable oil to a large saucepan and heat on medium. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes until soft.
- Add ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, all the while stirring then pour in tomatoes, coriander, cumin, chili and cook for 7 minutes. Add a little water if the sauce starts bubbling.
- Switch off the heat, and pour the sauce into a food processor, blend until smooth. If the texture is too thick, add 1/4 cup water and mix until combined.
Pulling it all together
- Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat then add chicken. Add the chicken without pouring in the leftover marinade from the container. Cook for 5 minutes until browned.
- Pour in the sauce and stir through. Heat until bubbling then stir in the cream and garam masala.
Serve with basmati rice and a wedge of lemon.
- Butter chicken vs. chicken tikka masala – what’s the difference?
- Basmati rice vs. jasmine rice – get the full comparison.
Check out the infographic
Fenugreek is a herb, or spice, that offers a slightly sweet and nutty flavor to dishes. In its raw form, it is bitter and unpleasant for many – it benefits from being cooked. Finding a fenugreek substitute can be a challenge as it has a unique flavor. The best option is toasted yellow mustard seeds that have been crushed. Adding a splash of maple syrup will further enhance the flavor profile and help you create a winning meal.
Do you have a favorite alternative to fenugreek when you’re in a bind? Share it with us in the comments below.
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