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Fenugreek, also called methi, is a crop plant grown as a potherb and for the spice made from its seeds. The fenugreek plant grows wild from the eastern Mediterranean area to China; it is cultivated worldwide.
The name fenugreek or foenum-graecum is from Latin for "Greek hay".
Fenugreek is used both as an herb (the leaves) and as a spice (the seed) . The yellow, rhombic fenugreek seed is frequently used in the preparation of pickles, curry powders and pastes, and is often encountered in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent and Thailand. The young leaves and sprouts of fenugreek are eaten as greens and the fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor other dishes. The dried leaves have a bitter taste and a strong characteristic smell which means they need to be used sparingly.
In the Arabian nation of Yemen it is the main condiment and an ingredient added to the national dish called Saltah. The similarity in the Arabic word Hulba and Mandarin Chinese word Hu lu ba reveal the significance of fenugreek in history. Fenugreek is also one of four herbs used for the Iranian recipe Ghormeh Sabzi. Dried fenugreek leaves (called kasuri methi) are used in Indian and Pakistani dishes such as dahls, including in the Bengali spice mixture panch phoron.
A side effect of consuming even small amounts of fenugreek is a maple syrup or curry smell in the eater's sweat and urine which is caused by the potent aroma compound sotolone. Fenugreek is frequently used in the production of flavoring for artificial syrups. The taste of toasted fenugreek is additionally based on substituted pyrazines, as is cumin. By itself, it has a somewhat bitter taste. Fenugreek seed is widely used as a galactagogue (milk producing agent) by nursing mothers to increase inadequate breast milk supply. It has also been used to increase breast size. It can be found in capsule form in many health food stores.
In India it is mixed with yogurt and used as a conditioner for hair. It is also one of the ingredients in the making of injera/taita, a type of bread unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. The word for fenugreek in Amharic is abesh, which is also often used as a natural herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes. It is also sometimes used as an ingredient in the production of clarified butter (Amharic: qibi, Ethiopian and Eritrean Tigrinya: tesme) , which is similar to Indian ghee. In Turkey, fenugreek gives its name, "gemen", to a hot paste used in pastirma.
Recently fenugreek has found its way into some bodybuilding supplements as it is suggested it may help stimulate testosterone production, although there is little evidence for this.