Asafoetida, often spelt as asafetida is a lesser known spice which is easily distinguished by its pungent smell that appears because of its sulfur content. The spice has many nicknames like stinky finger, devil’s dung and stinking gum all due to its unique nauseating aroma. In fact the word asafoetida has been coined by combining two words, aza and foetidus, which mean resin and stinking respectively. Asafoetida is the edible gum obtained from the stem of the asafoetida plant (Ferula) which is dried and then sold. Though the fresh gum is whitish in colour when dried it turns dirty yellow in color.
Asafoetida is mainly grown in the Mediterranean and Central Asia regions particularly Afghanistan and Iran. The botanical name for asafoetida is Ferula Asafoetida while it is also known by other names like Hing (Hindi), Ferule Asafoetida (French) and Hilteet (Arabic).
Common asafoetida dishes include curries, pickles, spice blends and gravies.
The Historical Background of Asafoetida
Asafoetida has long been used as a spice. It is believed that asafoetida was used as a tenderizer for meats centuries ago and during the Roman era it was a popular spice. There has also been a mention of asafoetida and its use in cooking in some of the popular Hindu mythology epics like Mahabharata and some Sanskrit scriptures.
The Culinary Uses Asafoetida
Asafoetida is commonly added to lentil preparations like dal and soups for its flavor and also for its property to lessen flatulence. Due to its pungency asafoetida is used sparingly in recipes.
In its raw form asafoetida has a repulsive smell but when cooked it lends a pungent flavor and smell of an onion to the dish. Many diets that refrain from using onion prefer this spice instead.
Popular Asafoetida Recipes
Asafoetida is used widely in the following recipes:
1) Pickles – Pickles usually have a strong flavor and asafoetida helps getting one.
2) Spice blends – Asafoetida is usually used in combination with other spices. A much known Indian spice blend called Goda Masala uses asafoetida
3) Kadhi – A popular Indian curd based recipe made using gram flour. Since gram flour is hard to digest asafoetida works as the digestive element here.
Cuisines That Commonly Use Asafoetida
Even though, asafoetida has origins in the Middle East, it is more commonly used in the Indian cuisine. Common asafoetida recipes in Indian cuisine are lentil dishes and curries. Some of the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries also have a few traditional asafoetida dishes.
How to Use Asafoetida While Cooking
As asafoetida releases its flavor well in the hot oil, the ideal time to add asafoetida while cooking is during the tempering stage. Some also practice making paste of water and powdered asafoetida and mix it in the dish to avoid full extraction of its flavor.
Nutritive Value Of Asafoetida
Asafoetida has digestive properties and contains traces of carotene. Other than that it is very beneficial in treating everyday ailments like indigestion, cough and infection.
Asafoetida Buying/Storing Tips
Asafoetida is available in the form of blocks or powder which may be chosen as per convenience. However, the blocks are eventually reduced to small pieces or coarse powder before adding to any dish, so it is recommended to go for the powdered form. The block form of asafoetida is preferred from the storage point of view and many believe it is a more pure form. Asafoetida has a long shelf life so you need not worry, if purchased in bulk.
To store asafetida place it in a dry covered container on your kitchen shelf or in the cupboard. Always ensure that the spice is stored covered, as its strong smell can easily overpower the smell of other spices or food stuffs. Storing asafoetida in the refrigerator is not advisable because of its heady smell.
Ingredients Similar To Asafoetida
Asafoetida is one of its kinds, the only spice which has such a repulsive aroma yet widely used in cookery for its distinct flavor and medicinal properties.
Food and Drug Administration Approval for Asafoetida
Asafoetida is a commonly used spice and there are no restrictions on its sale or use.
Other Uses of Asafoetida
Asafetida, one can say, is mainly used in cooking due to its medicinal qualities. It is blessed with many properties beneficial for treating minor ailments. Although, asafoetida is not used commercially as an ingredient for medicines, it has been used for ages as a home remedy by the Indians.
• Cough – Mixed with ginger, pepper and honey asafetida works as a quick solution for cough.
• Diabetes – Asafoetida helps maintain blood levels when mixed with bitter gourd juice and consumed.
• Toothache - Cotton soaked in lemon juice and asafoetida solution when pressed between two teeth helps alleviate toothache.
Likewise, a list of home remedies for joint pain, fever and infection, using asafoetida, can be drawn.
Asafoetida is believed to enhance a singer’s tone quality. There have been instances during the Mughal Dynasty of India where the court singers would consume asafoetida with butter and practice before an upcoming performance.
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