What is Asafoetida?
Asafoetida is a resinous gum derived from a species of giant fennel, and it is well-known for its intensely pungent aroma, akin to decaying garlic. It is an invaluable spice for those unable or unwilling to consume onion or garlic, offering a similarly rich and umami flavour to dishes. In particular, Jain and Brahmin Indians, who abstain from garlic and onions, frequently incorporate it into their culinary repertoire.
How to Cook with Asafoetida
A pinch or two of the yellow, diluted asafoetida powder is sufficient for 250g of the primary ingredient. If using the undiluted powder, a smaller quantity is recommended. You'll soon gauge your preferred level through experimentation, and overuse is fine as its potency diminishes upon prolonged cooking.
For optimal results, fry asafoetida in hot oil for 5 to 10 seconds until its characteristic smell is unmissable. Ensure proper ventilation by turning on the extractor fan or opening a window, then promptly add the remaining ingredients to prevent burning.
A small addition of asafoetida can impart a pleasing onion-garlic flavour, making it an excellent choice for vegetarian dishes, curries, stews, or any recipe for onion and garlic. In smaller quantities, it subtly enhances the flavour of fish, egg, or cheese dishes, including salads and dressings, where onion would be too overpowering or cumbersome. Furthermore, asafoetida is a natural remedy for flatulence, making it a beneficial ingredient in lentil or bean-based dishes. It can also be featured in recipes like paneer with broccoli, sesame, or Gujarati cabbage with coconut.
How to Store Asafoetida
To keep its odour contained, store asafoetida in a tightly sealed container. Its aromatic potency is closely linked to its freshness, as the volatile oils can quickly dissipate, causing the flavour to wane. Therefore, it should be stored carefully and replaced frequently if used regularly.
Availability of Asafoetida
It can be easily sourced online, from larger supermarkets, or from Indian spice shops where it is commonly known as 'hing'.
Choosing the Best Asafoetida
Asafoetida is generally available in two principal forms. The brown powder form is pure, concentrated gum that has been ground down and should be used exceedingly sparingly. The more user-friendly yellow powder is diluted with flour, rice flour, and turmeric but should still be used judiciously. Different brands may have varying dilution levels, so reading the packaging for specific guidelines is advisable. While it is also available in red-brown lumps, these are less commonly encountered.