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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hooda and Jood's Fenugreek Whole Wheat Bread

 Hooda and Jood's Fenugreek Whole Wheat Bread

"Organoleptic": involving a sense organ
When he was younger than two years old, and soaking everything about the world in through his senses, I would sometimes lift my son and carry him to the spice cupboard, to smell every herb and spice we used then for cooking.  "Cinnamon" I would say as he sniffed the tiny bottles or bags full of aromatics.  "Cardomon.  Ginger.  Oregano.  Rosemary."  He quickly learned to associate the scents with the names.

Likely somewhere in your experience, you too have gained familiarity with these scents, and the names of these very common kitchen spices.  But there are other spices that are a little bit more uncommon, and the name does not immediately conjure up the scent or the taste from most western kitchens.

One of these spices that remains somewhat uncommon to North American households is Fenugreek.  It does appear as a constituent of some curries, but it would be difficult for someone unfamiliar with its flavour and its scent to pick it out of a curry lineup (which may also contain onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, paprika and other ingredients) and say with certainty, "that is fenugreek."  Both the leaves and the seeds are used for flavouring.  Here I am considering only the seed.

Personally, when I take a small mouthful of Fenugreek seed, I taste legumes.  But fenugreek also has the familiarity of curry.  Food chemists say that Sotolon is the ingredient in fenugreek that gives it its flavour note -- "caramel-like at low concentration levels to currylike at high concentrations", but may interact with other ingredients to appear "burnt, spicy"  (Marsili: Sensory-directed flavour analysis).  According to the Dictionary of Food Ingredients, fenugreek has a "maple-like flavour and burnt sugar taste," and for this reason it is used not only in curry but also in "imitation maple flavour, chutney and pickles."  Unless you've tasted it directly, it is difficult to describe.  It is a unique spice that deserves to be more widely known.

The Fenugreek Bread
My decision to make it into a bread had everything to do with an article that I found from "Nutrition and Food Science: 2005; 35, 3/4, by Shalini Hooda and Sudesh Jood, entitled "Effect of fenugreek flour blending on physical, organoleptic and chemical characteristics of wheat bread".  Ever since reading the article, I'd wanted to try to make it.

I did not know at the time that India already has a bread called Khakhra made with beans and wheat and fenugreek leaves (Kasoori methi).  I suppose that this bread is nothing like Khakhra.

Hooda and Jood's bread uses fenugreek seeds, and is designed to improve wheat's ability to deliver balanced protein for the human diet. Fenugreek contains lots of Lysine, the protein that is the main delimiting amino acid in wheat.  Fenugreek seeds are also said to contain good amounts of Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Manganese, and Selenium.  Fenugreek supplements also are said to lower the insulin spike following a carbohydrate meal -- so fenugreek begins to sound like it might be ideal for a health bread. 

From Hooda and Jood's article, I took the message that anything over 15% fenugreek seed flour in the recipe would neither be pleasing to the eye or tastebuds.  However, I simply ground up my fenugreek seeds (and probably not finely enough); Hooda and Jood suggested that soaking, germinating and grinding the seeds improved the seed's acceptability among consumers.  I didn't have the time to germinate the seeds, so this bread is actually Hooda and Jood's least favourite form of the healthgiving bread recipe.  But if it shows promise, I might consider sprouting some next time I try this.

Ingredients based on Hooda & Jood's Pup Loaves:
  • 100% whole wheat flour 460g
  • 3.5% yeast 16g (Note: I changed this and only used 9g)
  • 1.75% salt 8g
  • 8% honey 37g
  • 70g water 322g
  • 15% fenugreek 69g

Method based on AACC Straight Dough Method, revised by me on the fly:
  • Grind up the fenugreek (I should have milled it finer, here I just ran it through my coffee grinder)

  • Mix all ingredients.  (It takes some kneading to get it all incorporated.  The freshly ground fenugreek smells interesting!)

  • Bulk ferment 90 minutes in warm Excalibur Dehydrator on bread setting

  • Turn it out on a counter and fold it gently, then form a boule.  The dough is not that elastic, and it tends to break if you bend it too much.

  • Proof 45 minutes

  • Score and spritz; then bake on a stone 40 minutes at 415 degrees F on a hot stone with steam


The bread, when it was cooking, smelled very interesting, but the bread did not proof well, and had little oven spring.  The gluten of the whole wheat wanted to tear easily when it contained 15% fenugreek.  The loaf is small.  Gentler handling would have been warranted.  No-knead styles of baking and handling might benefit breads made with this much fenugreek.

I let this loaf sit out over night on the table, and noted that it still retained an interesting and I'll say pleasant aroma in the morning.  I sliced it open, and the scent predominated.

This is a tight-crumbed bread, takes some work to chew, but it is quite pleasant tasting.  It is fenugreek flavoured, to be sure, but unless one is familiar with that flavour, that describes very little.  This is a bread that needs to be taste-tested.

The cat became quite interested in what I was doing when I was slicing up this bread and photographing it.  I suspect it had a little to do with the scent of the loaf but more to do with the cat's own curious nature -- he wanted to see what I was up to.  He had just come in from his nocturnal journeys, and he wanted some attention.  He wanted me to pet him while he ate his breakfast, so he could warm up and get outside again.  When I was more interested in the bread, he photobombed a few of the shots.

Notes to Myself
  • This is a most interesting tasting, gently scented bread that deserves more experimentation.
  • Try adding more water, bringing the hydration level to 75% next time.
  • Try a no-knead technique, like Lahey's long bulk fermentation, and use a gentle handling of the dough.
  • Mill the fenugreek seeds, don't just grind them.  The finer they are, the better chance the bread will behave as a bread, and give an adequate rise.
  • Better yet: germinate the seeds, and then dry them and grind them up.  Some of fenugreek's enzymes have been studied extensively and found to be of immense importance, but they are released when the seeds are germinated.  Try sprouting the fenugreek 48 hours, like Hooda and Jood suggest.
  • What if you used maple-syrup as a sweetener, instead of honey?  Would the "maple-like" qualities of the fenugreek be enhanced?


  1. Amusing that literature says that fenugreek flavor is sweet and maple-like. I always associated fenugreek seeds to taste on the bitter side. I agree that soaking and germinating the seeds makes them more palatable. I believe is it supposed to make them easier to digest too. (We used to be given the liquid from fenugreek seeds boiled and steeped to ease stomach cramps, it wasn't very pleasant) I would never have thought that it could be used in bread! Kudos to you for experimenting.

  2. I really enjoy this bread, and the scent of it remains intriguing to me, right down to the last crust. To me, it tastes fine. But although my wife was, in the beginning, interested in the bread, she tried a couple of other slices (eating some with jam, for instance -- and I can't imagine eating jam with this), and she will never try it again. She now thinks its too bitter.

    I think that Hooda and Jood did their 'organoleptic' tests mostly on the Indian subcontinent, where perhaps the 'acceptability' rating for Fenugreek would be much higher than in other cultures. Maybe 15% is a bit high for westerners. 10% might be a safer level for us.

    Curious that fenugreek tea eases stomach cramps. One of the reasons my wife doesn't like the bread is, she believes it causes her to experience terrible gas (should I be publicly outing her here, by disclosing that she sometimes has gas?) -- I don't think it has this effect on me, BTW. I wonder if this is HOW it eases stomach cramps? Because as everyone knows, if you try to keep it in, it can be painful. Or, as the old aphorism would have it, "Better an empty house than a poor tenant".

  3. Well, I am from India, (now settled in the US,) so I do have a high acceptability thresh-hold. I will have to ask my mother / grandmother if they know any reasoning about the medicinal properties.