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What is Kasoori Methi? Flavors, Substitutes, and More

The Indian subcontinent has a wide and rich variety of cuisine throughout the region. One thing that is common across the region is that the food is incredibly flavorful because of the combination of herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Kasoori methi or Fenugreek, a clover-like herb, is used extensively in Indian cuisine.

Kasoori methi refers to sun-dried fenugreek leaves used in Indian cuisine across many states like Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. It’s used in curries and lentil preparations as well as in bread. The herb is used to add a savory as well as a slightly bitter note to dishes.

This article will detail what Kasoori methi is, what it tastes like, and the benefits of using it. We’ll also talk about some of the common uses of Kasoori methi and what you can use instead if you don’t have access to fenugreek.

Dried Kasoori methi, also known as Fenugreek, placed in a dark colored circular bowl
Photo by Stock Image Factory

What is Kasoori Methi?

Kasoori methi refers to fenugreek leaves dried in the sun for use in food. It’s predominantly used in North Indian cuisine and the cuisine of some states in the western part of the country. It’s typically crumbled and stirred into dishes after they’ve finished cooking.

While fenugreek seeds, leaves, and stems are all used in cooking, it’s only when the leaves are sun-dried that the herb is called Kasoori methi. Otherwise, it’s known as methi in North and East Indian languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, and Oriya.

India is one of the largest producers of fenugreek in the world.

Most of its production comes from the state of Rajasthan, although that isn’t where the herb originated. In fact, the term “Kasoori” refers to the region of Kasoor in Pakistan, and it’s believed that the use of sun-dried fenugreek leaves originated from this region. Fenugreek is believed to have been cultivated as far back as 3,000 years ago, in Kashmir, Punjab, and the plains of the River Ganga. 

The people of the region of Kasoor eventually began to package and sell the dried fenugreek or dried “methi” leaves, as fenugreek is called in the region. Since the dried leaves were from Kasoor, they came to be known as Kasoori methi (methi from Kasoor).

What are Other Common Names for Kasoori Methi?

Kasoori methi is called dried fenugreek leaves in English. The name Kasoori methi is commonly used across northern India. In other states like Karnataka and Maharashtra, it’s known as menthya. When it comes to the southernmost states, it’s known as “venthayam” in Tamil Nadu and as “uluva” in Kerala.

The term Kasoori is always attached when referring to the dried leaves because it indicates the Kasoor region where the dried leaves were first produced. As the dried leaves are primarily used in North Indian cuisines, it is frequently referred to as Kasoori methi regardless of language because the usage is only for specific dishes.

What’s the Difference Between Fenugreek and Kasoori Methi?

Kasoori methi refers exclusively to sun-dried fenugreek leaves, which are used either crumbled and stirred into dishes or crushed into a powder. Fenugreek refers to the entire plant. In cooking, fenugreek instead of Kasoori methi refers to fresh leaves and/or the seeds of the plant in the dish.

The use of dried fenugreek leaves began in Pakistan, in the Kasoor region. So, the name of the dried version of the leaves, Kasoori methi, literally translates to “fenugreek of/from Kasoor.”

Fresh fenugreek is known simply as methi or sag methi in Pakistan and the northern parts of India. It’s also used in cooking and is a particularly popular ingredient in dishes that use root vegetables.

A popular North Indian dish is “aloo methi,” which is made with potato and fresh fenugreek.

Fresh fenugreek and fenugreek seeds are frequently used in cuisines across the Indian subcontinent, even in the central or southern regions where Kasoori methi may not be used frequently or at all.

The seeds are used in several ways across dishes of the Indian subcontinent. 

Fenugreek is used in other cuisines. The plant is endemic to the Mediterranean and southern European regions, in addition to South Asia. Turkish, Iranian, Egyptian, and Ethiopian cuisines all use fresh fenugreek leaves and seeds in their dishes.

The fresh leaves and seeds are used in culinary pastes, spice mixes, soups and stews, and meat marinades.

What Does Kasoori Methi Taste Like?

The taste of Kasoori methi has been described as bold and savory. The leaves do have a bitter note, but the drying process significantly softens this bitterness. The leaves also have a mild spiciness to the flavor.

Kasoori methi and fenugreek in general are known for their distinct maple-like aroma. This aromatic nature is retained when the leaves are sun-dried even though the flavor mellows out.

In cooking, Kasoori methi is used for its smell as much as its taste. Fenugreek contains sotolon, a chemical that gives it and therefore Kasoori methi its distinct maple syrup smell. This chemical is also found in caramel and burnt sugar.

To preserve the aroma, Kasoori methi is added to curries as the dish finishes cooking, as well as a garnish.

When it comes to flavor, Kasoori methi adds a mild spiciness and a deeply savory note to food, undercut with a slight bitterness. As most dishes that the herb is used in are tomato-based, the bitterness adds a complexity that cuts through the sweetness of the tomatoes.

A great way to make the Kasoori methi more aromatic and increase its savoriness is to roast the dried leaves and crush them to release the aroma. This process of roasting and crushing should be done just before the Kasoori methi needs to be added to the dish.

Celery and fennel are most commonly compared to Kasoori methi and are overall the closest in flavor. The flavor of Kasoori methi can be described as a combination of celery and fennel, overlaid with the aroma and mild flavor of maple syrup.

Kasoori methi is used in both vegetable and meat dishes and is sometimes added to curry powders.

What are Substitutes for Kasoori Methi?

While there are several substitutes for Kasoori methi, some are better than others.

The best substitute for Kasoori methi is fresh fenugreek leaves. If there’s no fenugreek available, then the next best substitute is a combination of celery and fennel leaves. Other common substitutes for Kasoori methi are mustard greens, collard greens, and watercress leaves.

When using fresh fenugreek leaves, it’s important to remember that the sun-drying process eliminates a lot of the bitterness and increases the aroma. To preserve the flavor of the dish you’re preparing, use fewer fresh leaves than the kasoori methi or add lemon juice to balance the bitterness. Chopping the leaves will release more of the bitter notes, so chop roughly, if at all. Or you can dry the leaves before using them to get that Kasoori methi flavor.

Since the flavor of Kasoori methi is described as a combination of celery and fennel, using a mix of these fresh leaves is a great substitute for when you can’t access any fenugreek at all. Use one part fennel leaves and two parts celery leaves. When using this mix of celery and fennel for Kasoori methi, use three times the amount of Kasoori methi called for in the recipe.

Mustard greens can be used pretty easily as a fenugreek substitute as they have a slight pepperiness that matches the mild spice of Kasoori methi. Collard greens are slightly more bitter than Kasoori methi, but when combined with spinach, it can be used as a Kasoori methi substitute in a pinch.

Alfalfa or watercress has a similar flavor to celery and can be used just like celery as a Kasoori methi substitute.

Most curry powders usually have Kasoori methi as an ingredient, so a pinch of curry powder can be used as a substitute in recipes. It won’t affect the taste adversely, and the differences won’t be so large as to be noticeable.

Dried Kasoori methi in a small square shaped white vessel
Photo by Stock Image Factory

In What Dishes is Kasoori Methi Often Used?

Kasoori methi is frequently used to add flavor and as a garnish in many North Indian dishes. The herb is used for both meat and vegetable dishes, particularly root vegetables and lentils. Kasoori methi is also an important ingredient in many recipes of curry powder.

Apart from their culinary uses, fenugreek, in all its forms, is known for its health benefits and is used in many ways.

What are the Benefits of Kasuri Methi?

Kasoori methi enhances the aroma and flavor of all the dishes that it’s added to. It’s also known to have several health benefits because of the phytonutrients present in fenugreek. The aromatic nature of the dried fenugreek leaves enhances the fragrance of the dish being prepared.

The savory notes of kasoori methi make the dishes more flavorful and appetizing, while the bitterness adds complexity and cuts through the sweetness of the other ingredients and spices in dishes.

Kasoori methi has phytonutrients like folic acid, niacin, as well as Vitamins A, B6, C, and K. The leaves also contain minerals like copper, calcium, iron, and zinc manganese, iron, and potassium.

Closing Thoughts

Kasoori methi refers to fenugreek leaves that have been dried in the sun. The name Kasoori methi translates to fenugreek of or from Kasoor, which is a region in Pakistan where the herb was first dried and used.

The herb is used extensively in Pakistani and north Indian cuisine to add flavor and aroma as it tastes savory, mildly bitter, and spicy and has a distinct maple syrup smell that enhances the aromas and flavors of all the dishes it’s used in.

It also has several health benefits and is used in folk remedies in addition to its culinary uses.