What the heck is asafoetida...or asafetida?? Spelling it is tricky enough, let alone pronouncing it! Asafoetida is one of the most distinctive spices in Indian cuisine - making it sort of a wonder spice, a secret ingredient. Just a pinch of this unsung hero smooths the flavor and aroma of every other spice and makes it all simply taste better.
Also known as hing in Hindi, it is by far the most simultaneously misunderstood, if not forgotten, and sublime ingredient in Indian cuisine. Native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan, the spice is derived from a gum extracted from a ferula, an herb in the celery family. Typically found in the form of a coarse yellow powder, this harmonizing spice comes with a pungent and distinct aroma of sulfur and onion. When used properly, a small pinch of asafoetida balances and supercharges every other spice in the pan, like salt but in an odiferous umami way (and without the sodium).
A little goes a long way with this one!
How is Asafoetida used?
Along with its hard to describe but delicious flavor profile, this secret wonder spice contains a myriad of healthy medicinal properties. Asafoetida is often used as a digestive aid as well as a “cough medicine” to lessen the effects of respiratory problems like whooping cough and asthma.
It is also a great option for people who don’t like or can’t eat onion and/or garlic, as it adds a similar depth and savoriness to food.
Small amounts of asafoetida give a comforting umami flavor to several types of dishes, but its unique taste and flavor fusing abilities really come through in Indian cuisine. It adds complexity, balances spice and melds the flavors in vegetarian dishes, lentil curries such as dal, and stews – almost anywhere you would use onion and/or garlic.
The Colors of Asafoetida
The real thing, before it’s ground into the more typical powder form, is red-brown lumps of different sizes, but you’re unlikely to encounter it.
The brown powder is the full-strength ground dried gum; it’s extremely pungent and used in very small amounts.
The yellow powder is the asafoetida more commonly used and much easier to work with. It is usually diluted with wheat or rice flour and turmeric, and still used sparingly in blends and recipes.
No matter what form, this tantalizing spice is more than a forgotten mispronounced name, it’s a true spark starter for flavor!
Try cooking with some of our spice blends and discover the magic of asafoetida!