• Fabulous Fenugreek 02 May 2014 | View comments

  • Fabulous Fenugreek


    Fenugreek, or 'trigonella foenum graecum' is, for our purposes, a fabulous galactagogue - that is, it boosts breastmilk production!

    And, humanity appears to have been harnessing the benefits of this spicy legume for some time. Charred fenugreek seeds have been unearthed in ancient Iraq dated to circa 4000 B.C., and desiccated seeds found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Cultivation of fenugreek began in the Near East, with all parts of the plant being used - the leaves as a herb, the seeds as a spice, and the sprouts and micro-greens constituting a vegetable. Our fascination with fenugreek need not stop at tisanes.


    For, fenugreek has featured as the key ingredient in many cultural dishes throughout history, and herbal medicines have lauded its various benefits, claiming to aid a myriad ills from digestion to diabetes.

    Remedies using fenugreek included those for bronchial ailments, tuberculosis, swollen glands, cuts, and sores, and fenugreek was added to unguents for its role as skin softener.

    The ancient Greeks knew the herb as 'telis'. Hippocrates, Cato and Pliny all list fenugreek as an ingredient in varying prescriptions and remedies intended for everything from dyspepsia to cattle fodder. Roman garum, the much-beloved pungent fish sauce, was laced with fenugreek pulp as it was believed to be effective against headaches, and potent as an aphrodisiac!

    When its herbaceous elements are not being employed within a farrago of far-flung cuisine, fenugreek seed wields its ribald allure flavouring sauces, condiments, and relish.

    But, the farthermost fenugreek delight is bestowed upon us in the form of something called 'hilbe'. Hilbe is made by soaking, rinsing, and processing fenugreek in various stages for several days - protracted, but worthwhile.

    Once achieved, hilbe is incredibly versatile, and can be used as a spread, a flavouring in soups, or as a base within which to make a fiery sauce. Hilbe ubiquitously bedecks flatbreads, falafel, and any fried vegetables or fish, and is used with 'zhug', a Yemeni hot sauce to make countless dishes. This fabulous fenugreek concoction can also be used in sweet baking to flavour cakes, pastries, and biscuits.

    Making Hilbe

    If you would like to make hilbe you need to soak around three or four tablespoons of fenugreek for three days in a jar or bottle, and change the water several times a day.

    Twice daily, rinse and refresh the seeds under running water in a colander or sieve, and return to soaking. At the end of the three days, the fenugreek seeds puff up and lose much of their darker colour and raw bitterness.

    To the swelled seeds then add approximately one cup of water and blitz the soaked fenugreek for a couple of minutes in a food processor, to produce a thick paste, and follow by sitting in the fridge for three hours.

    This process needs repeating once or twice more, before the fenugreek becomes frothy and consistent with egg-white.

    Store your hilbe in a jar, chilled, or freeze it until you need it.

    Ancient lore is borne out by modern science - fenugreek is indeed fantastic!

    A nutritional breakdown shows the remarkable nutritional content of this legume, which boasts a rich store of minerals including iron, calcium, copper, selenium, and is incredibly vitamin-dense, containing a host of B vitamins, folic acid, A and C.


    Fenugreek's polysaccharides, saponins, tannin and pectin all work together to keep our cholesterol levels where we would like them, and amino acid 4-hydroxy isoleucine benefits those with diabetes; mucilage aids digestion, and Not stopping at that, the choline in fenugreek will keep your mind sharp, and ease symptoms of PMS and menopause, and the compound diosgenin increases milk flow. Wilder rumours claim fenugreek can promote breast growth.

    It is a good job that fenugreek features in recipes, sweet and savoury, in teas, spreads. And spice mixes. For now, I think I will have a cup of tea.




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