Asafoetida, also known as hing, is the dried resin gum tapped from the roots of the ferula plant, native to Iran and Afghanistan and cultivated in North India. The pure resin dries to a dark reddish brown, and on its own it is difficult to grate and ingest as it is so potent. It is, therefore, commonly packaged and sold in a compound form where asafoetida powder is mixed with wheat and gum arabic. Pure gluten-free asafoetida can be difficult to find in shops, but can be bought online.
An exceptionally hot and pungent spice, asafoetida has earned its nickname ‘devil’s dung.’ It is integral to Indian cooking where its carminative action promotes proper digestion, nutrient assimilation and circulation of the legume-heavy diet. Asafoetida is a good culinary substitute for onions and garlic, especially useful when cooking for Buddhists, Brahmins and Jains, which religions exclude alliums. Use asafoetida sparingly; a pea-size amount is sufficient to flavour a large pot of lentils. Frying shortly in hot oil before adding to the main pot of food radically improves both the taste and smell of asafoetida powder, and allows the flavour to disperse more evenly throughout the dish.
Asafoetida also has expectorant, anti-spasmodic, anti-helminthic and aphrodisiac actions. It is a useful treatment for bronchitis and intestinal worms respectively.
It is vital to keep asafoetida in airtight containers as its sulphurous odour will affect other foods and spices.« Back to Glossary Index