‘A’ is for….

If you know all this off by heart, you can skip today’s blog. But there are still some people left on earth that don’t know the answer to this much-asked question. Plus I’ve dug up some more tidbits of interest about my favourite spice.

Toni from Brisbane writes:

“Could you please explain what is asafoetida powder?”


Asafetida (also spelled asafoetida) is the aromatic resin from the root of the giant fennel, Ferula asafoetida. It is also known as hing, and is extracted from the stems of the giant perennial plants that grow wild in Central Asia, especially Northern Iran and Afghanistan. Thus it is known as an oleo-resin exudate.

In the spring, when the plant is about to bloom, the stems and roots are cut. Milky resin exudes from the cut surface and is scraped off. The gummy resin is sun-dried into a solid mass that is then sold in solid, wax-like pieces. Most raw asafetida is sent to India for further processing and sale, mostly in the convenient powdered form.

flowering asafetida:

Asafetida has been held in great esteem among indigenous medicines from the earliest times in India. It is highly reputed as a drug to expel wind from the stomach, and to counteract spasmodic disorders. Asafetida is also a digestive agent and is used, among other things, for alleviating toothache and as an antidote for opium.

In Thailand it is used to aid babies’ digestion and is smeared on the child’s stomach in an alcohol tincture known as “mahahing”.

John C Duval reported in 1936 that the odor of asafetida is attractive to the wolf, a matter of common knowledge, he says, along the Texas/Mexico border.

Haitian black-magic rituals often would include asafetida to keep the evil spirits at bay.

It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran, and was popular in any self-respecting Classical kitchen. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India (commonly known there as hing).

Some sources say that it emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who after returning from a trip to north-eastern Persia (modern Afghanistan), thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed silphium of Cyrene in north Africa. Nevertheless, it could be substituted for silphium in cooking, which was fortunate, because a few decades after Dioscorides time, the true silphium of Cyrene went extinct, and Asafoetida gained in popularity, by physicians as well as cooks.

After the Roman Empire fell, until the 16th century, asafoetida was rare in Europe, and if ever encountered, is was viewed as a medicine.

If used in cookery, it would ruin every dish because of its dreadful smell,” asserted García de Orta‘s European guest.

Nonsense“, García replies, “nothing is more widely used in every part of India, both in medicine and in cookery. All the Hindus who can afford it buy it to add to their food. The rich Brahmins, and all the Hindus who are vegetarian, eat a lot of it. They add it to their vegetables and herbs, and first rubbing the cooking pot with it: it is seasoning, sauce, and condiment in every dish they eat“.

In the days of Moghul aristocracy in India, the court singers of Agra and Delhi would wake before dawn and eat a spoonful of asafetida with butter to enhance their singing voice before practicing on the banks of the Yamuna river.

gimme more:

Asafetida is also excellent for settling flatulence and is prescribed by Indian herbalists for respiratory problems like whooping cough and asthma.

Due to the presence of sulphur compounds, raw asafetida has a distinctive pungent aroma. To cook with asafetida, small quantities of the powdered form are sauteed in a little slightly-hot oil or ghee, before adding to a variety of savoury dishes, adding a delicious flavour reminiscent of a mixture of shallots and garlic.

da yellow stuff:

I always uses the mild yellow asafetida powder and not the grey variety. All my recipes calling for asafetida were tested using this yellow variety. If using other types, reduce the quantity to between a quarter and a half of the suggested amount. Asafetida is available at Indian grocers and specialty stores.
Posted by Kurma on 30/5/08; 4:48:52 AM

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