Asafoetida

Asafoetida is a hard resin gum which has a strong and pungent smell. It is known as ‘Hing’ in Hindi. The botanical name for the plant is Ferula asafotida and it belongs to Umbilliferae family. Due to its strong smell it is also termed as ‘Devils Dung’. It has also been named as ‘Food of Gods’. Asafoetida is said to have derived its name from the Persian word ‘aza’ which means resin and a Latin word ‘foetida’ meaning stinking.

The spice is native of Afghanistan and Iran which are major suppliers of asafoetida to India. In India it is grown in Kashmir and Punjab mainly.  India is the major consumer of the spice. The resin is collected by making incision in the plant. Fresh gum is a semi-liquid mass. Gradual changes make it hard and dull yellow in color.

It is believed that asafoetida enhances singers voice. Singers in the Mughal court used to consume a spoonful of asafoetida with butter before practice. In India, Hindus and Jains do not consume onion and garlic for religious reasons, the spice provides them with a good substitute for flavoring the food.

Asafoetida is commonly found in 3 forms – ‘Tears’, ‘Mass’ and ‘Paste’.  ‘Tears’ is the purest form of asafoetida. It is round or flat, about 15-30 mm in diameter.  ‘Mass’ is the major commercial form of the spice.There are 2 forms majorly available in the market- one is the white or pale variety and second is the dark or black variety. The pale variety is water soluble and the dark variety is oil soluble.

The strong smell of the spice is because of  sulfur containing essentials oils. Due to this reason it is believed to be a natural pesticide. In mythology it is said to destroy  all kind of negative energies. Typical asafoetida contains 40-64% resins,  approximately 25% gums, 10-17% volatile oils and 1.5- 10% ash.

Buying Tips:

  1. If strong flavor is preferred than buying the lump form of spice is preferable.
  2. Powder form has a reduced flavor due to additives, such as rice, barley or wheat flour, to avoid lumping.
  3. Both the lump and powder form should be purchased in proper packaging as it helps in retaining the color and flavor.
  4. The color of purest resin is  gray or dull yellow.
  5. The powder form will have lighter color due to additives.

Storage:

  1. Both the lump and powder form should be protected from direct heat, light, air and moisture; to retain color and flavor of the spice.
  2. It should be stored in opaque, air-tight containers.
  3. Store in a cool, dry place.
  4. Store it away from other spices and raw ingredients as its odor effects their aroma.

Culinary Usage:

The spice has been a part of Indian cuisine since centuries. In Indian cuisine, the spice is an important part.

  1. A pinch of spice is used in the cooking of all pulses,beans and vegetables. Specially, it is used with those food items which are believed to have a gas producing effect on the stomach.
  2. It is used as a tenderizer and preservative for meat.
  3. It is a flavoring agent for various pickles and chutneys (Indian homemade sauces).
  4. When heated with oil it gives a onion-garlic flavor.
  5. The flavor also blends well with fish preparations.

Medicinal Uses: The spice has found medicinal applications in ‘Ayurveda’ and in traditional medicinal systems of other eastern countries. These age old traditions believe asafoetida to have curative effects for various health problems such as:

  1. Relief from  flatulence and other gastric problems.
  2. Cure for hysteria
  3. Respiratory problems like -bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough
  4. Nervous disorders in children
  5. Antidote for opium addicts
  6. Relief from toothache
  7. Lowers blood pressure
  8. Good for women health. Provides relief in leucorrhaea, premature labor, painful mensuration.
  9. Said to be effective for de-worming.
  10. Good for lactating mothers.
  11. It helps in mood swings and depression.
  12. Anti- inflammatory
  13. Strong anti-oxidant.
  14. Highly effective for heath of urogenital system.
  15. Has sedative properties.

Home Remedies:

  1. A pinch of asafoetida powder heated with ghee (clarified butter) instantly relieves gastric pain in infants and young children.
  2. A pinch of powder is soaked in lime juice until it mixes well. Rub this solution on dental cavity and get instant relief.
  3. Mix a pinch of asafoetida in a cup of warm water. This  will help in relieving pain  due to indigestion.

Dietary facts: Use of asafoetida in daily diet is recommended. In Indian cuisines almost all vegetables, pulses and legumes have a pinch of the spice. In western cuisine it can be combined with various seasonings and dressings. An analysis of asafoetida shows that 100 gms  consists of carbohydrates 67.8 per cent s, moisture 16.0 per cent, protein 4.0 per cent, fat 1.1 per cent, minerals 7.0 per cent and fiber 4.1 per cent. 100gms of the spice provide 297 kcal. Its mineral and vitamin contents includes  calcium,  phosphorus, iron, carotene, riboflavin and niacin.

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