(Ferula assafoetida) Some people
spell it as asafetida. The resinous gum of a
plant which grows in Afghanistan and Iran. The smell is unpleasant (one
of its common names is "devil's dung") but once incorporated in a dish
it gives no hint of its malodorous beginnings. It used to be popular as
a condiment in Roman times, and a favorite with Apicius, a Roman gourmet
of the first century.
It is used as a seasoning, but its real
importance is that it acts as an anti-flatulent and is therefore
especially important in Indian lentil dishes. Pure asafoetida resin is
sold in small lumps in a tin or box. Sometimes each lump is wrapped
tightly in paper. Unwrap, pound using a mortar and pestle and use a
piece no larger than a peppercorn. Nowadays, asafoetida is usually sold
powdered and mixed with rice flour to keep it free running and to
diffuse the strong aroma. Because of this the flavor is milder and in
this form asafoetida may be measured and used in quantities from a pinch
to a half-teaspoon, depending on how pure and strong it is. Don't
Asafoetida comes into its own in Brahman
cooking where it is used as a flavor substitute for garlic and onions.
The latter are ruled out because they are believed to inflame the baser
Purchasing and preparation :
Asafoetida may be purchased in two forms - the pure resin individually
wrapped in lumps of approximately 2 g, or in powdered form mixed with
ground rice and sometimes also with powdered turmeric. Powdered is
easier to use, but there is not much asafoetida in the formula.
If using using pure resin, use a mortar and
pestle to pound to a fine powder, mix with twice to four times as much
(by volume) of rice flour, and store in a small screw-top glass jar. Use
sparingly, as it will be stronger than the ready-mixed version. Another
method is to press a peppercorn-sized piece of the resin onto the inside
of the lid of the pan in which food is being cooked. The steam then
carries the flavor and its carminative properties into the food.
Storing : Store asafoetida in a
screw-top glass jar to prevent the odor pervading pantry shelves. In
this airtight environment it will last indefinitely. (If the asafoetida
is ground, double jar storage is recommended - sort of a high security
precaution for containing the odor.)
Medicinal uses : As a carminative and
reliever of flatulence it is invaluable in lentil dishes. It is also
used to treat nervous conditions, bronchitis and asthma, and is being
researched as an anti-coagulant and treatment for blood pressure.