The seeds and leaves of the fenugreek plant have been used in cooking and medicine for thousands of years. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the use of fenugreek is documented in an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll dated to 1500 B.C.E. In modern cuisine, fenugreek is widely used as a spice, digestive aid and table vegetable. Depending on your recipe, any of several ingredients may stand in place of fenugreek.
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Fenugreek contains the fragrant compound sotolone, which is also found in maple syrup. Because of its similarity in taste and flavor, trace amounts of maple syrup may be used in place of fenugreek in certain recipes. Be careful to use only a small amount; too much could cause the dish to be overwhelmingly sweet.
Depending on the dish, mustard may impart the combination of flavors necessary to give a fenugreek-like flair. Substitute an equivalent amount of mustard seed in lieu of fenugreek seed, or use mustard greens in place of fenugreek leaves. A teaspoon of honey-dijon mustard can also work instead of an equivalent amount of fenugreek seed.
Fennel bulb and fennel seed both grant food an aroma similar to maple or licorice, so they can be ideal substitutes for fenugreek. Use dried fennel seed when a recipe calls for fenugreek seed, or chop fennel bulb and use it in place of fenugreek leaves.
In some recipes, celery leaf may work as a substitute for dried or fresh fenugreek leaves. Although celery does not offer the maple-like flavor associated with its exotic counterpart, it does give food a sweet and slightly bitter flavor. Celery leaf's similar texture and appearance also make it a viable substitute.