Fun with Furans: Making Flat Bread with Fenugreek

Fun with Furans: Making Flat Bread with Fenugreek

• The first reports of a strangely seductive aroma wafting over Manhattan and nearby New Jersey began in 2005. People smelled maple syrup, which got them fantasizing over pancakes and waffles. No doubt, the local Denny’s did brisk business. But there were enough calls to 311 to set the authorities sniffing. It was not until 2009, after the Department of Environmental Protection analyzed dozens of air samples and computed wind routes, that Mayor Bloomberg announced the mysterious source: a spice factory in New Jersey that processed fenugreek.

Sotolon, or more precisely 4,5-dimethyl-3-hydroxy-2[5H]-furanone, is an extremely strong aroma compound. In low concentrations, it smells like maple syrup, caramel or burnt sugar, and at high concentrations it evokes the smell of curry and spices. It is the major aroma and flavor component of fenugreek and lovage, but also flavors rum, white wine, aged sake and tobacco. Why you complain, New Yorkers?

• Remarkably, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is used three ways: as a spice, herb and vegetable. The yellowish cuboid seeds (methi) are roasted and widely used in Indian cooking, the dried leaves (kasuri methi) are used as herb, and the fresh leaves (methi) are cooked as greens. This time, I chopped the leaves up finely in my food processor and incorporated them into a verdant and pliant dough, to make methi parathas, a flaky, flat bread full of flavor.

Gene Mutations in the enzyme that breaks down branched chain amino acids result in sotolons accumulating in the urine. Maple syrup urine disease, (MSUD) is life threatening and is particularly prevalent in some ethnic groups (Old Order Mennonites).

Recipe: https://madamescientist.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/fun-with-furans-making-flat-bread-with-fenugreek/

MSUD: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/maple-syrup-urine-disease

#ScienceSunday

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61 Responses to Fun with Furans: Making Flat Bread with Fenugreek

  1. Arnav Kalra says:


    methi parathas are tasty. :yum:

  2. Arnav Kalra says:


    Mandeep Singh with butter? or malai or curd?

  3. Arnav Kalra says:


    great. aam ka achar?


    Rajini Rao what do you have for breakfast?


  4. I remember those days of the mystery smell… A much better fragrance than Nj is usually blamed for; I’ll take fenugreek any day!

  5. Rajini Rao says:


    Good to see all the delicious reports of winter breakfasts here! Arnav Kalra , I’m being lazy this morning..have not had breakfast yet (plus we had that clock change). Yesterday morning I made rava dosas with semolina flour, buttermilk and chopped tomatoes/scallions/chillies.


    Translation: dosas are like crepes (or pancakes).

  6. Arnav Kalra says:


    I had a plain dosa yesterday evening because of stomach problems.


    Sounds spicy to me. Enjoy your day 🙂

  7. Rajini Rao says:


    Hudson Ansley , really! How interesting, I only heard about the mystery aroma by chance. It was funny how the “authorities” had to rule out possible terrorism: death by curry!

  8. Samia Elsaid says:


    Have to try this one day!! Looks super. I enjoyed that story as well! A strange aroma ?! I love those cites with cooking aromas filling the air . They make them veery distinctive 😉

  9. prem mundada says:


    Paratha & curd yummy…

  10. Rajini Rao says:


    Let me know if you do, Samia Elsaid . You could substitute other greens as well 🙂

  11. Panah Rad says:


    hm…. interesting 🙂

  12. Rajini Rao says:


    You sound a bit dubious, Panah Rad , that’s okay 😉


  13. What an interesting olfactory mystery. Thanks for sharing (and to all the commenters for making me hungry)

  14. Bill Carter says:


    Now I am hungry!  🙂

  15. Josh Zapata says:


    I like your pic. The food looks good


  16. Fun post.  I would take the aromas of maple syrup or fenugreek on any given day over the usual smells of nyc – especially on a hot day!  That looks delicious!


  17. Rajini Rao Here is the article about it from the NYT:


    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/uncovering-the-source-of-the-mysterious-syrup-odor/


    it was not very easy to find – when googling “odor from NJ” a sweet smell has a lot of competition!

  18. Rajini Rao says:


    Hudson Ansley , thanks so much for digging that up! Following the link, it appears that the company Fruitarom extracts flavors and aromas from natural products, including:


    Yerba mate


    St Johns Bread


    Fenugreek


    Oak Chips


    Kola Nuts


    Wild Cherry Bark


    Chocolate and cocoa extracts


    Coffee and tea extracts


    There used to be a McCormick spice factory a few miles away from us..every so often, we would get the most delicious spice aromas, usually something different each time and not frequent enough to bother us in any way! NJ could be worse, right? 😉


  19. I like that the article points out that Mayor Bloomberg was mispronouncing fenugreek as “fenugeek” 😉

  20. Rajini Rao says:


    LOL! My friend Rashid Moore said of this post that it combined our inner geek with fenugreek; I guess it was all Greek for Mr. Mayor 😉


    (I should be nice, he is a major benefactor to my university, to the tune of a billion or so).


  21. Well, he is partial to geeks, which is one of his best qualities, imo 🙂


  22. Nice to see there are more scientists out there who love to cook..scientifically, I mean!

  23. Rajini Rao says:


    Boney Kuriakose , the chemistry only enhances my enjoyment of cooking just as the aroma flavors improve the taste of a meal 🙂


  24. Rajini Rao that reminds me, thanks for all the interesting scientific details about fenugreek and the recipe!

  25. Rajini Rao says:


    Rabia Farrukh , I agree, alu methi is delicious. Lucky you!


  26. A hanger person know the value


  27. «is used three ways: as a spice, herb and vegetable.»


    I get what spice and vegetable mean, but herb? an example? Camomille in an infusion? Oregano in a pizza? Rucula in a salad?

  28. Rajini Rao says:


    Víktor Bautista i Roca , camomile and oregano are used as herbs (dry or fresh), i.e., as flavorings, more sparingly. I would class Arugula as a green, much like spinach or escarole, since it is a major component of the salad.


  29. Rajini Rao Ok. I guess our cultural/linguistical categories don’t fit. 

  30. Léa Jay says:


    oh, I like this post! I read it several times to understand! Thank you :))

  31. Rajini Rao says:


    Víktor Bautista i Roca , there’s no botanical difference between a vegetable and a herb. It’s just semantics and cultural, as you say.

  32. george m. says:


    is that a chapati made out of fenugreek flour?


    So the aroma from curry is mainly fenugreek.

  33. Rajini Rao says:


    george mogaka , the fenugreek is added as leaves to the flour.

  34. george m. says:


    Am only familiar with seeds. I will try leaves.

  35. Mary T says:


    Did you know, Rajini Rao that fenugreek is the preferred flavoring of picky horses?  I read this in an equine magazine awhile back, and I have made Ally fenugreek tea, which she loved ;D.

  36. Rajini Rao says:


    That’s fascinating info, Mara Rose ! Was it made by steeping the seeds or the leaves?

  37. Mary T says:


    Yes, I bought fenugreek tea at the store–I think it was the dried leaves, as I recall.  I often make tea for her, or just open up a tea bag, usually peppermint or chamomile, and dump the tea leaves into her feed.

  38. Rajini Rao says:


    Bon appétit, Jeff Brown ! 🙂


  39. And it combats various problems – diabetes for one.

  40. Rahul Joshi says:


    I just detest fenugreek in my food. And my mom just can’t make anything without fenugreek! I’ve been long aggrieved by this so called “gunkari methi” since my school lunch days :X

  41. Rajini Rao says:


    LOL, Rahul Joshi ! Perhaps your taste buds need to “mature” 😉 I used to hate asafoetida (hing) with all my heart and soul when I lived with my parents. Now, I spend my hard earned money stocking my kitchen with it. 

  42. kiran dhopte says:


    hi rajini gm hw r u

  43. Rahul Joshi says:


    Hehe. I thought my taste buds had matured when I started eating all three meals a day, plus some more. But fenugreek! Maybe one day when I’m wiser :p


    Strangely, I’ve loved hing since like forever. It’s something about the aroma which I find very appetizing.


  44. Rahul Joshi – Your body tells you what you need, and you only have to know how to listen to it. When you need methi you will begin to like it.

  45. Rahul Joshi says:


    Quite true Jyotsna Gokhale . I hope it doesn’t literally come to that though. As-in “need” due to some deficiency. Much better off coming through my palate improvement 🙂

  46. Susan LaDuke says:


    Gotta give your recipe a try. Always looking for new foods to make.


  47. Thats a wonderful thing about Methi (Fenugreek).  Two more important  uses of Methi is that


    (a) its grandma’s remedy for “Red Alerts” for ladies.  Soaked methi used to  be given to them to get enough strength during that time and  reduces the stomach pain during that time.


    (b) Methi is used in preparing Dosa batter (a South Indian food).  It gives a wonderful aroma and softness to Dosa. 

  48. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks, manjunathsamaga samaga . I soak a tsp of fenugreek seeds to make my dosa batter too.

  49. kiran dhopte says:


    hi rajini ji hw ru gm


  50. Excelcior….far out ra


    phael inostroza

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