Asafetida: The Sublime Ingredient Of Indian Cuisine
- Deepali Verma
Updated : June 11, 2022 03:06 IST
It's especially important in vegetarian dishes that call for asafetida to replace the robust flavor that meat usually provides.
Asafetida is a pungent spice used in cooking as well as eaten as a digestive aid. The word asafetida comes from the Latin word foetid, which means ‘to stink.’ Native to Central Asia, eastern Iran, and Afghanistan, where it can be found at elevations ranging from 600m to 1200m above sea level. The rhizome or tap root of some Ferula species exudes this dry latex. It is a perennial herb that grows to a height of 2 \m (6.6 feet) and is harvested after four years. The plant is also known as devil's dung, giant fennel, smelling gum, asant, food of the gods, jowani badian, stinking gum, hing, and many more names.
One of asafetida features is umami. It has a flavor depth similar to garlic and onions, but it has a far more dynamic effect on the other spices in a dish. To fully understand it, it must be experienced, but in a nutshell, it combines flavors. It's especially important in vegetarian dishes that call for asafetida to replace the robust flavor that meat usually provides.
Even tiny amounts of asafetida impart a soothing onion-garlic flavor, which is especially nice in vegetarian recipes, curries, and stews – pretty much everywhere onion and/or garlic are used.
Where onion might be too harsh or thick, a small bit gives a delicate lift to fish, egg, or cheese recipes. This also applies to salads and salad dressings.
There are two types of asafetida. The dark powder is ground full-strength dried gum; it's quite strong and should only be used in very small amounts. When diluted with flour or rice flour and turmeric, it's easier to utilize as a yellow powder, although it should still be used sparingly. Because different producers temper it in different ways, make sure to read the directions on the package. The actual thing consists of red-brown lumps of various sizes, although you rarely come across one.
In most cases, a pinch or two of yellow, diluted asafetida powder is added to dishes while in some cases, smaller amounts of undiluted powder are used. You'll quickly learn whether you prefer it more or less, and there's no harm in using too much – the longer you cook it, the more mellow it becomes.
To prevent it from burning, fry asafetida for 5 to 10 seconds in well heated oil until its pungency is dramatically apparent. Make sure the exhaust is on or a window is open – then add other ingredients to prevent it from burning.
To keep the smell from spreading throughout your home, keep asafetida packed in an airtight container. Because its volatile oil evaporates readily and the essence diminishes, the pungency of asafetida is directly proportional to its freshness. If you use it frequently, store it with care and replace it regularly.