Fenugreek: Market structure of the main exporting and importing countries

Fenugreek is traded mainly in seed form and to a lesser extent as a spice and as an extract (oil, oleoresin). However, all three forms of traded fenugreek are often aggregated with other seeds, spices or extracts in trade statistics thus impeding the exact calculation of fenugreek traded volume. Here, an attempt is made to outline the market structure for fenugreek products in the major importing and exporting countries.

Exporting countries


India has a predominant position in the world spice trade with substantial production back up and availability of a wide range of spices. India produces over two million tons of spices every year. The total world trade in spices is only one-fifth of India’s spice production. India is the largest supplier accounting for more than one-third of the total world spice trade of 450,000 tons. Indian spices are exported to over 130 countries. India is a major supplier of a large number of seed spices such as coriander, cumin, celery, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, etc. India is also the leading manufacturer and supplier of spice oil and oleoresins.

Spice exports from India until recently were in raw form and in bulk packaging. The recent changes in market behavior, changes in consumer preferences and the emergence of supermarkets, etc. abroad have resulted in the usage of more value added, ready to use spices products and spices in consumer packs. The main technology capabilities that India could achieve in the field of spice processing and post harvest handling have helped it to move ahead of other producing countries. The Indian exports in value added forms have shown significant growth during the years of the last decade. The exports of value added spices like spice oils and oleoresins, spice powders and mixtures, dehydrated spice products, etc., including spices in branded consumer pack, have substantially increased.

As shown in Table Area, production and export of fenugreek from India, the cultivated acreage of fenugreek and the respective production exhibit relative stability in the last twenty years, variation is small in acreage (25,000–30,000 ha have been cultivated) and slightly larger in production (35,000–45,000 tons have been produced) depending on weather conditions. However, exports exhibit an increasing trend, rather dramatic in recent years; stalling at 799 tons in 1960–61, exports rose to 15,135 tons in 1995–96, while export prices (in Rs/kgr) rose fifteen-fold during the same period. This increase in the quantity and value of fenugreek exports, in recent years, reflects improvements in the processed fenugreek products as well as production of new, high value-added ones.

Table Area, production and export of fenugreek from India

YearArea (ha)Production (tons)Export (tons)Export value (Rs/kgr)
1960–1  7990.87
1970–1  1,0421.40
1995–6  15,13512.38

Table Fenugreek spice exports from India during 1991–2 to 1995–6 presents the major countries to which Indian fenugreek products are exported; most exports are directed to UAE, Sri Lanka and Japan. Of the EU countries the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and France are the major importing countries of Indian fenugreek products.

Table Fenugreek spice exports from India during 1991–2 to 1995–6 (QTV in MT, it is referred to main countries)

Korea (South)168.0277.9164.5230.0250.0
The Netherlands146.3319.1275.7462.8552.2
Sri Lanka664.0102.0474.01,204.71,237.6
Saudi Arabia591.2385.4338.5487.3574.5
Total*5,577.348,415.04,494.46,678.18,891 1

Note: * Figures of exports only partly agree with the respective figures of Table 11.1 because only the major exporting destinations are included here.

The Spices Board India (Ministry of Commerce) Government of India is the apex agency for the development and worldwide promotion of Indian spices. The Board is the catalyst of these dramatic transitions. The Board has been with the Indian Spice Industry every step of the way. The Board plays a far-reaching and influential role as a developmental, regulatory and promotional agency for Indian spices.

The Board is an international link between the Indian exporters and the importers abroad. Its broad-based activities include formulation and implementation of better production and quality improvement methods, systematic research and development programs, education and training of growers, processors, packers and exporters, selective registration and licensing. It acts as a data bank and communication channel for importers and exporters and promotes Indian spices abroad.

The global food market is flush with all manner of branded spices in consumer packs. All of them bombard the consumer with chains and counterclaims for visibility and attention. But then, the packs seldom reveal the source of origin of the products nor do they offer a clue as to the quality associated with it. The result is that the consumer is totally confused. The Indian Spices Logo [The logo, a green leaf inside an elliptical ring (denoting freshness, growth and excellence), is prominently displayed on all packs cleared and approved by the Spices Board India, so it can be easily spotted that the pack spells Indian and quality] is a major effort to overcome this impasse. The international consumer is by and large aware of the intrinsic and acquired superiority of Indian spices. The Board awards the logo selectively to exporters who have certified processing and quality control capability and maintain a high level of hygiene and sanitation at all stages.

The latest in the Board’s campaign for quality upgradation is the introduction of the spice House Certificate. It is an effort to recognize those exporters who have a commitment to quality, consistency and long-term export growth. The certificate is issued to those processors/exporters who have adequate capabilities for cleaning, processing, grading, packaging, warehousing and quality assurance. It is hoped and believed that these units will move towards HACCP and ISO 9000.

The Spice Board has published two lists of exporting companies specializing in fenugreek seed and fenugreek powder, respectively. The first list consists of twenty-five companies including: Hathibhai Bulakhidas, Jatin and Company, Groversons, Swani Corporation, Gautam Export Corporation, Palbro International, etc. The second list includes fifteen companies such as: Vallabhadas Kanji Ltd, Vasantham Enterprises, Allana Sons Ltd, Shashuat Gum Industries, Miltop Exports, etc.


Full statistics of fenugreek seed are only available from 1976–78 but these show annual exports varying between 700 and 1,700 tons. From an inspection of the statistics of the importing countries it appears likely that annual Moroccan exports have been around 1,000 tons. The main market has usually been Italy although Moroccan and Italian trade figures do not correspond. The UK has also been an important market. Other significant markets include the Netherlands, France, Germany, USA and Libya. Morocco exports small quantities of fenugreek extract mainly to France.

Other exporting countries

Many other countries export fenugreek seed from time to time but not in volumes comparable with those of India and Morocco. Spain has been a major supplier to the important Italian market, in some years supplying 100–200 tons. Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon have also exported sizable quantities, but intermittently. In Asia, where the crop is widely produced for domestic usage, China and Pakistan, among others, have exported fenugreek seed but the quantities are much less than those for India. Elsewhere, Israel and Egypt occasionally export small quantities. Cultivation trials have been conducted in several countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and even the UK, but as yet there has emerged no producer large enough to challenge the dominance of the two principal exporters in international markets.

Importing countries


Germany is the largest market for spices in Europe. There are more than sixty companies that are involved in the grading, packing and processing of spices, with another fifteen or more importers and distributors. Germany is also the largest importer, accounting for around 30 percent of the ECU 320 million European imports market. Fenugreek imports are not separated from turmeric imports trade statistics but from an examination of origins and of the export statistic for the source countries, it appears that perhaps about 200 tons are imported annually. Most of this is supplied by India but smaller amounts come from Morocco and China. The main use is in curry powders and other spice mixes but most of the consumption is probably accounted for in animal feed flavors. A small quantity of fenugreek is said to be imported annually from France for special application in tobacco flavors (Spices Board; Commonwealth Secretariat).

German households have the highest per capita consumption of spices in Europe. Spiced bread and bakery products are widely consumed. The Germans are also the largest producers and consumers of processed meat products. These require a wide range of spices for both flavoring and coloring purposes. It can be pointed out here that Germany is also a major exporter of spices and spice products.

There is a growing concentration of retailing in the hand of the supermarkets, with European giants like Tengelman, Metro and Rewe becoming increasingly important (ten companies account for 70 percent of the turnover).

In addition, discount stores like Aldi operate throughout Europe. A similar concentration has taken place in the food processing and catering sector. This has given rise to a corresponding rationalization process amongst the producers and processors of spice (Commonwealth Secretariat).


France is the second largest spice market in Europe with a representation of 13 percent of the total EU market. France has over 15 percent of the EU import market, second only to Germany. French trade statistics aggregate imports with those of turmeric but an examination of origins and of the export statistics of the source countries suggest that fenugreek imports are normally more than 200 tons annually. Only the whole seed is imported and the principal origin is generally Morocco, although recently imports from India have increased substantially. The biggest outlet for fenugreek seed in France is thought to be animal feed flavors with minor uses in spice mixes, retail packs and also for extraction. The usage of fenugreek extracts is mostly in flavor blends but also in some perfumery applications, a little is produced domestically but in addition Indian and Moroccan extract are imported. Moroccan fenugreek extract is produced at the source by a French firm, it is then blended in France, which reexports most of the refined products (Commonwealth Secretariat).

France has one of the highest per capita consumption levels of herbs and spices in Europe. This is due to its high culinary standards, its old colonial ties and its former domestic production base. France is still one of Europe’s largest producers of spices and spice extracts.

The market for branded spices is dominated by Ducros (Erdamin Beghin Say) that has more than 50 percent of the market, as well as a major share of the Spanish market. The only major competitor is Amora (Donone group), which has 17 percent of the market and also strong links in Belgium (Liebig Benelux). Supermarket and discount house labels are of increasing importance in France with around 20 percent of the market.

There has been a growing demand for exotic food in France. As a result, sales of specialty spice mixes for Mexican, Thai and Indian cooking have been growing rapidly through specialist companies like Martignon, Laco and Thiercelin (Commonwealth Secretariat).

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is the third largest spice industry in Europe with a representation of 11.5 percent of the total EU market. The largest immigrant community and the country’s old colonies have stimulated the local demand for spices. Fenugreek seed imports are aggregated with turmeric in the Netherlands trade statistics but it is estimated that annual imports are normally around 300 tons. Recently, fenugreek seed imports have increased to 500 tons. The main origin has been Morocco, but recently Moroccan imports have declined and India has become the principal source. Significant quantities of the fenugreek purchased by spice grinders are used in curry mixes. The balance is probably accounted for in animal feed flavors. Several quantities of French-extracted fenugreek absolute are imported annually, mostly for fragrance uses. In addition, smaller quantities of higher strength extracts are produced domestically especially for incorporation into tobacco flavoring, the main markets of which are outside the Netherlands (Spices Board, Commonwealth Secretariat).

The Netherlands is a major re-exporter of spices both to other EU countries and to the USA. It is also a major center for spice processing. Three of the world’s largest flavor and fragrance houses have their European manufacturing base there (Quest, International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) and Tastemaker). All these firms produce oleoresins, essential oils and natural spice extracts using spices imported into the Netherlands. Apart from the above, there are four or five companies specializing in the processing and packing of spices in the Netherlands. These include (owned by Burns and Philip), Conimex (owned by CPC), Van Sillevoldt (Silvo brand) and the Huybregts Groep (Commonwealth Secretariat).

Prospects for fenugreek seed in its spice application are linked to the demand from domestic curry powder manufacturers. This demand is expected to grow but the increase in terms of volume will be small.

United Kingdom

The UK ranks just behind the Netherlands and Spain as the fifth largest importer of spices in Europe. The UK’s historical ties with the Commonwealth, its large Asian and Caribbean ethnic population and its importance in the spice trade ensure its central role in the European spice industry. Fenugreek seed imports are aggregated with those of turmeric in the UK trade statistics, but by means of an examination of origins and of exporting countries statistics it has been estimated that imports have varied between 300–800 tons annually. The peak years were 1976–78, but very recently imports have declined. The principal source has been Morocco, in some years providing 90 percent or more of the total, but lately increasing quantities have been imported from India. China, Israel and Spain have also occasionally supplied smaller amounts. The main use of fenugreek seed is in animal feed flavors. Other outlets for fenugreek seed include curry powders and other spice mixes. There is also some demand for extraction purposes (Commonwealth Secretariat).

The UK is also a major exporter of curry powder, prepared sauces and spicy foods. Food retailing in the UK market is dominated by the supermarkets, which control nearly 70 percent of the market for food stuffs. Most supermarket chains tend to offer only one or two branded spices plus their own label products. Schwartz is the dominant brand with over 50 percent of the market. Three other companies – Lion Food, Bart Spices and British Pepper and Spices (Millstone brand) – together have 16 percent of the market. All the main producers supply their own brand of products for supermarkets, which account for 31 percent of the market (Commonwealth Secretariat).

The UK is a major center for the manufacture of curry powders, pickles and pre-prepared Asian foods. Companies like Veeraswamy’s (part of West Trust), Sharwoods (part of RHM), Trustin Foods and TRS (Sutezwalla) manufacture and export worldwide. The UK is also a major producer of fragrances and flavors with leading multinationals such as Quest International, Bush Boake Alien and specialist firms like Lukas Ingredients and James Dalton (part of the Swiss Flavors house, Firmenich). These companies produce and distribute spice oleoresin, spice oils and a whole range of specialist blend spice extracts and value-added food ingredients. The Seasonings and Spice Association has around twenty-three members, including all the major packets and spice ingredient manufacturers (Commonwealth Secretariat).

Fenugreek seed remains outside the support system of the European Community’s Common Agricultural Policy, there is unlikely to be any inducement for farmers to grow the crop. The UK can therefore be expected to remain a market for imported fenugreek, although no substantial growth is foreseen.

United States of America

No separate import statistics are published for fenugreek seed, but trade sources put imports at about 500 tons annually, with little obvious trend. The main origin is India. Other sources are Morocco, Israel, Pakistan and China. It seems that over half of all imports are used for extraction purposes. Other smaller applications include curry powder and spice mixes. Both solid and liquid fenugreeks are produced domestically by two or three firms. Some Moroccan fenugreek extract is also imported. The extract is mainly used in artificial maple syrups, also in tobacco flavors and some spice seasonings. Demand for fenugreek extract is said to be steady (Spices Board).

The market is increasingly dominated by two food groups: McCormick Inc. (turnover ECU 1.27 billion) the world’s largest spice company and Burns Philip and Co. of Australian (turnover ECU 2.1 billion), which has become through the acquisition of Ostmann in Germany, Euroma in the Netherlands and British Pepper and Spice in the UK, the largest supplier of spices in Europe. These two concerns are estimated to control more that 25 percent of the European market (Commonwealth Secretariat).


No separate trade statistics are published for fenugreek seed, but an examination of exporting countries’ statistics shows the market size to be about 100 tons annually, imports having remained fairly stable. India is the main country of origin. At one time Morocco was an important supplier but trade informants claim that this source is no longer price-competitive, and very little is now imported from there. The principal uses of fenugreek seed are in spice blends for processed meat products and to a lesser extent, in curry powders. The whole seed is available in retail packs and sales could amount to 10–20 tons annually. Some fenugreek seed may be used for the production of an extract, but Canadian flavor houses generally import a solid extract from USA. It is used entirely in flavors, particularly in artificial maple syrup.

Belgium and Luxembourg

Fenugreek seed imports are aggregated with those of turmeric in the Belgium and Luxembourg trade statistics but it is estimated that annual imports varying somewhere between 10–40 tons. The main source is Morocco. The principal uses of fenugreek are in spice mixes and as an animal feed spice. Sales of retail packs of fenugreek seed are minimal, spice packers maintaining that they only stock the line in order to provide a full range of spices. It is unlikely that there will be much growth in the market for a retail pack of the seed.


Fenugreek imports are aggregated with turmeric in the Danish statistics. However, it is estimated that around 10–15 tons are imported annually, mainly re-exports from Germany, but also small quantities from other European countries and a little directly from Morocco and India. Demand is fairly constant. Mostly whole seed is imported. Nevertheless, importers are willing to take ground fenugreek seed if the quality and price are favorable. The main use for fenugreek in Denmark is in spice mixes but there is also a limited retail trade in whole and ground seed, as well as a small level of usage in medical preparations.

Other importers

The other EU member states are not very significant importers of fenugreek and obtain most of their suppliers from other EU states, India and Morocco. Many countries do not publish data for fenugreek imports, but by reference to exporting countries’ statistics it appears that the Middle Eastern countries are important markets. Kuwait has become a major importer, taking nearly 300 tons. Saudi Arabia too, imported over 600 tons annually from India. Other significant importers in the region are North Yemen (consistently taking 200–300 tons per annum from India in recent years), the United Arab Emirates (averaging about 2,000 tons per annum) and Oman (70–80 tons per annum). In North Africa, Libya and Algeria sometimes take substantial quantities from both India and Morocco. In Asia, Japan is probably the largest market, normally importing between 400 and 800 tons annually from India. Japanese demand for fenugreek seed is mainly for the domestic production of curry powder, and is not expected to show any significant increase. Singapore’s imports of fenugreek seed have also been around 400–600 tons in recent years, South Korea has taken over 200 tons on occasion, while other significant Asian importers include Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, and South Korea. Elsewhere, Australia has occasionally imported over 50 tons per annum, but in most countries fenugreek seed is a very minor spice (Spices Board).


Selections from the book: “Fenugreek. The genus Trigonella”. Edited by Georgios A. Petropoulos. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2002.