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About Asafoetida


(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 over-do it.

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 passions.

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.

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