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Asafoetida is a pungent spice known for its use in Indian cuisine. While many home cooks might be scared off by its potent smell, it’s certainly worth experimenting with! Asafoetida is known for its funky, umami-packed flavours and strong aroma. In this post, we’ll talk about what it is and how to use it.
In Hindi, asafoetida is known as hing, but it has other intimidating nicknames such as the Devil’s Sweat or Stinking Gum. This spice is what gives Indian food its distinctive flavours. Known for its transformative, fragrant properties, asafoetida brings a savoury, full taste to dishes. Native to Iraq and Afghanistan, its claim to fame is starring in Indian and Pakistani dishes, but a few Middle Eastern countries have also incorporated this spice into their cuisine.
Asafoetida is actually a gum or resin-like substance that comes from ferula, a thick root in the same family as celery, carrot, and giant fennel. The spice is available as a coarse, yellow powder that smells like boiled eggs due to high concentrations of sulfur. You can also find brown versions and solid chunks that are stronger in potency. Don’t be put off by the smell! Just because it’s not super well-known in Western kitchens (yet) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using it!
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This spice adds a lingering depth of flavour and savouriness to dishes similar to garlic, onions, and salt (without the sodium). Some cooks feel it produces flavours similar to leeks and even meat.
A little goes a long way. Just a pinch or two of asafoetida will give your dish that slightly funky Indian flavour while enhancing all the other ingredients around it. It’s great in curries and Indian dishes, but because of its burnt-oniony-garlicky flavour, feel free to use it anywhere you’d use onions or garlic. It also works well in stews and vegetarian dishes.
Asafoetida is convenient in places where adding chopped onions would ruin the texture, like smooth and creamy cheese or egg dishes. It can also elevate fish if used very sparingly. Many people use asafoetida in bean or lentil dishes because it’s known for its propensity to eliminate gas. In fact, in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it was often used to aid in digestion.
There’s a method to cooking with asafoetida. You can’t just sprinkle it into your dishes, nor can you use it as you would a finishing salt. Like many other Indian spices and blends, asafoetida works best when you fry it in a bit of hot oil, butter, or ghee for a several seconds first – right when you begin cooking your dish. This will temper any bitterness and bring out its true funkiness. After the aroma fills your kitchen, feel free to add other ingredients.
Cooking asafoetida tends to mellow its flavours, so you can experiment with how much you like in your dishes and dull its spark if you need to.
As for storage, the stronger its aroma, the fresher your asafoetida is. Keep it in an airtight container to avoid the distinctive scent creeping out into your kitchen. After using it, wipe off any excess (and maybe even consider using a second container) just to make sure it doesn’t permeate your cabinet or pantry!
Asafoetida adds an irresistible savoury background flavour to cuisine of all types. Of course it shines on traditional Indian plates, but don’t be afraid to try just a pinch in all sorts of cuisine. It’s especially great with lentils, chickpeas, potatoes, peas, and cauliflower.
However, if you’ve never tried making Indian of Pakistani food with asafoetida, this spice will be life-changing. It takes an ordinary curry or dahl to the next level, and it’s sure to become a staple in your personal spice blend. To incorporate it, toast your other spices first – like coriander, fennel seed, cumin seed, or cardamom – and then add asafoetida last to dissolve and simmer. It will create the perfect, fragrant flavour base and add an intangible layer of deliciousness (that you can’t quite put your finger on) to your next dish!
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If you’re looking to begin cooking with asafoetida, try these recipes that feature this incredible spice: