The Magic of One of India’s Strongest Spices

India’s Asafetida: Just a Little is Enough

Asafoetida is one of India’s most pungent spices, so strong that Europeans dubbed it as ‘devil’s dung’ and sometimes ‘stinking gum.’ Asafoetida (or asafetida) is derived from the Latin for fetid. If you are unaccustomed to it, you’d act negatively to its mix of sulfur and onion aromas. Its Hindi word is Hing or Heeng, a dark brown resin-like substance from the roots of ferula, giant fennel plants that grow wild mainly in India, but is also found in Afghanistan and Iran.

However sharply pungent is its smell when raw, Asafetida or Hing is extremely fragrant when added to hot oil or clarified butter ghee to temper the aroma of certain dishes. Some refer to its aroma as that of leeks.

Hing can be paired with turmeric, added to lentil curries like dal or khatti mithi dal, and other vegetable dishes like broccoli. It is used to balance foods that are too sour, sweet, salty, or spicy. It must be used judiciously, just a pinch may be enough to flavor a pot of lentils. It is so pungent that it should be kept in airtight plastic bottles. However, once cooked, it makes dishes very pleasant.

Hing is used primarily for its helpful digestive properties. When added to foods that by nature are gas-producing, like beans and curries, Hing helps their digestion. In India, the spice is believed to have medicinal qualities, anywhere from kidney stones, asthma, bronchitis and even painful menstruation.

It is a cure for ulcers and whooping cough in Afghanistan, while it is considered a diuretic in Egypt. Elsewhere, the spice has been used for non-food purposes – as a tree killer, fish bait, moth trap, or as spirit repellent.

You can get Asafetida or Hing from Indian spice stores or larger supermarkets. The brown powder is full-strength and tiny amounts are enough. The yellow variety has been diluted with flour or rice flour and turmeric, but it must still be used sparingly. The spice works best when first fried for 5 to 10 seconds in hot oil. There is no harm done if you should use more, just have to cook longer until the pungency diminishes, with your windows open.

It can also be used in place of onions and garlic. The fresher the spice is, the more pungent the odor. Just remember the airtight containers, or have a housefull of its smell in just a few hours.

Wonderful Flavors in Bellevue

Ask your favorite Indian restaurant in Bellevue, the Spice Route, about the wonders of Asafetida or Hing, or how great flavors can come from small things.