An Introduction Asafoetida /Hing

An amber coloured resin extracted from the root or stem of a perennial plant, Hing plays many roles in many cultures. Scientifically called Ferula Assafoetida, Hing has been used as widely as in ancient Persia, Greece, Africa and India. From being used in black magic or warding away the evil eye to soothing stomach ailments, this spice has significant contribution to cultures around the world. But in cuisines, its pungent and strong aroma is put to good use as a replacement for onion and garlic. It gives off a smooth and robust flavour when released in hot oil. Today it is more commonly available in compounded forms.

Asafoetida is an extremely pungent aromatic spice obtained from the rhizomes of spices ‘ferula’ or giant fennel. In fact, it is is a hard aromatic resinous gum collected from certain species of giant fennels, plants of the genus ferula. It is available in blocks or pieces as a gum and more frequently as a fine powder, sometimes crystalline or granulated. Asafoetida is commonly used as a flavoring or spice in Persian and Indian cooking or as a condiment to be sprinkled over food after it has been cooked.

It is called devil’s dung because of its strong pungent smell due to the presence of sulfur compounds. The word asafoetida is believed to have gotten its name from the Persian word aza
(mastic resin) and a Latin word foetida meaning stinking.

Besides being used as a spice, asafetida also possess many medicinal properties. For centuries, it has been widely used for simple digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation. It was believed that asafetida enhanced singers voices. Although very reasonably priced today, in ancient times it was a precious and expensive condiment.

Botanical Description & Origin
Asafoetida is an herbaceous perennial plant growing to 2 m tall, with stout, hollow, somewhat succulent stems 5-8 cm diameter at the base of the plant. It has finely toothed leaves, clusters many white or yellow flowers in large compound umbels and a hollow stem growing from a fleshy taproot. It is the root that produces the spice.

A native to Iran, Asafoetida is commercially cultivated in Iran, Afghanistan and parts of India and Pakistan. In India, it is grown in Kashmir and in some parts of Punjab. The two main varieties of asafoetida are Hing Kabuli Sufaid (Milky White Asafoetida) and Hing Lal (Red Asafoetida). Even though most of the world’s production of asafoetida comes from the Middle Eastern regions of Iran and Afghanistan, India is the major consumer of this spice.

Spice Description
The smell of asafoetida is extremely unpleasant, like concentrated rotten garlic, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent of leeks. Its bitter taste and strong disagreeable pungent odour is due to the presence of sulphur compounds therein. It is available in three forms ie. ‘Tears’, ‘Mass’ and ‘Paste’. ‘Tears’, is the purest form of resin, rounded or flattened, 5 to 30 mm in diameter and a greyish or dull yellow in colour.

Asafoetida is a hard resinous gum, grayish-white when fresh, darkening with age to yellow, red and eventually brown. It is sold either as lumps or in powdered form. The former is the most common form of pure asafoetida.

Powdered Asafoetida has a strong, unpleasant smell, reminiscent of pickled Garlic, which is caused by Sulphur compounds in volatile oil.

Culinary Uses of Asafoetida
For centuries, it has been widely used as a tenderizer and preservative for meat. Asafoetida was a popular spice in Europe since the Roman times and a much-preferred spice of the Middle Ages. In Indian cuisine, it is used mostly in vegetarian cooking, in which the strong onion-garlic flavour enhances many dishes. It is pretty common among Brahmins and Jains where onions and garlic are prohibited.

Iranian cuisine uses it for flavoring meatballs and in Afghanistan it is used in the preparation of dried meat. Asafoetida is also suited to many fish dishes and some pappadums are seasoned with asafoetida. It is also used as a flavouring agent in pickles and sauces. This is a very powerful spice and even in its ground state lasts well over a year if stored properly.

Attributed Medicinal Properties
Today, asafoetida is widely used as a spice, it also contains innumerable medicinal properties. It was widely recommended as a herbal medicine for simple digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation in the traditional medicinal systems of the Middle East and India. It is also helpful in respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough. Like garlic, asafoetida’s volatile oil contains components such as disulphides that leave the body via the respiratory system and aid in the coughing up of congested mucus. It also thins the blood and lowers blood pressure.

Hing masalaHing is perfect for a subtler flavour in vegetable dishes.

Other Uses of Asafoetida
* Because of its extremely pungent and bitter smell, it can be used as a natural pesticide
* In magic and mythology, asafoetida is used to gain insight and to banish all negative energy, evil spirits and demons
* It is used to invoke male gods, especially those of a phallic nature.

Other names of Asafoetida
* Persian : Angustha-Gandha
* French : Ferule Asafoetida
* Arabic : Tyib, Haltheeth
* Sindhi : Vaghakkyani,Vagharni
* German : Asafotida, Stinkender Asant
* Italian : Assafetida
* Spanish : Asafetida
* Afghan : Kama-I-Anguza
* Indian : Hing, Hingu, Heeng
* Tamil : Perunkaya.

Botanical name: Ferula Asafoetida
Family name: Umbelliferae
Commercial part: Resin extracted from rhizome and thickened root