It took me a long time to get comfortable using ground fenugreek for the same reason that it stays in the back of a lot of people’s cupboards: as a spice on its own, for many of us, it’s not particularly delicious.
Where cumin seed is earthy and warm, and cinnamon sweet and woody, ground fenugreek’s aromatic profile is appleseed, celery and strychnine. This spice is punchy, too. Because of its bitter body, any more than a careful third or half teaspoon when cooking can be too much.
But what ground fenugreek has that not all prettier aromatics possess is a real work horse-like function - in the mouth, ground fenugreek creates space. There are spices that have that ability. Nigella seed is one, which is why we love it toasted on top of doughy, fluffy naan bread.
This function of fenugreek, coupled with its mild palate, makes it a great tool in baking. I think of how a half teaspoon of ground fenugreek in a macadamia and caramel cheesecake would provide a tidy little flavour corset - cinching in the richness to make the dessert more consumable.
A little bit of ground fenugreek in crumble toppings would perform the same function. A third of a teaspoon mixed through a made-at-home sweetened, toasted muesli during the oven roasting process will give the honey a more dimensional sweet quality.
Sweetness and fats are an intrinsic part of creating delicious flavour, particular when it comes to dessert. For me, it’s not about skimping but about making the rich flavour more digestible. And ground fenugreek certainly does that.
Fenugreek top tips
• Quality matters more for ground fenugreek than some other, prettier spices - use organic ground fenugreek for a less blunt aromatic effect.
• Ground fenugreek pairs well with beef. It allows other, softer spices to make more of an impact with the heavy protein.
• Use ground fenugreek with salt on pork fat to enhance crackling.