Hing is King – An Aromatic Spice From The Indian Kitchen
Image Credit: Hing- The Aromatic Spice From The Indian Kitchen

'Hing' is an indispensable spice in most Indian kitchens. The unique smell of 'Hing' is one of its key distinguishing features. Coming from a household which uses 'Hing' in most of its traditional dishes, I can guess that something delicious is being cooked just by the aroma of 'Hing' in ‘Desi Ghee’. Most curries and Lentils (Dals) are tempered with ghee to provide a distinctive flavour and health benefits. Digestive features of asafoetida ensure no bloating or acidity after eating gas-inducing dishes like beans and legumes. ‘Hing’ is also added to churans and ayurvedic supplements to aid digestion.

'Hing' smells weird! Said the western world, to the extent of even calling it ‘Devil’s Dung’; however, in India, 'Hing' is a revered spice which adds its distinct aroma and flavour to dishes and is often used as a substitute for onion and garlic. Thus, you will find ‘'Hing'’ a preferred spice in ‘prasadam’ served in temples.

Although Indians use ‘'Hing'’ extensively, more than any other country in the world, ‘'Hing'’ is not cultivated in India. The gum is extracted from the roots and stems of the Ferula plants, which are imported predominantly from countries like Iran and Afghanistan, and then processed in India to produce 'Hing' in the compounded form we get in stores. They are also sold as small stones that are melted or pounded into powder to be used in various recipes. In Uttarpradesh, ‘Kachoris’ and their accompaniment, ‘Aloo ki Sabzi’, are unimaginable without the flavouring of ‘'Hing'’. Devoid of onion and garlic, adding ‘'Hing'’ provides the desirable ‘Umami’ flavour to the ‘sabzi’. ‘'Hing wali Kachori’! You will often find the ‘Kachori’ vendors displaying boldly the much-loved spice used in their recipe.

In Northern India, Kashmiris use ‘'Hing'’ extensively, especially the Kashmiri Pandits. 'Hing' is mixed with other Kashmiri spices and whisked into yoghurt, which is then added to the curries creating the famous ‘Yakhani’. ‘Nadru Yakhani’, a favourite vegetarian dish from Kashmir, carries an exquisite flavour of 'Hing'. ‘Haak Saag’ is a leafy preparation made with collard greens, using minimum spices; however, the taste of ‘Hing with mustard oil leaves a long-lasting impression on your palate. In the delicious cuisine of Kashmir, ‘Hing'’ is not limited to vegetarian dishes but is also used in meat dishes.

In Rajasthani cuisine, ‘Hing'’ receives similar love. Be it the ‘Kachoris’ or the famed ‘Kadhi’, ‘Hing'’ is indispensable. ‘Hing Wale Aloo’, a simple yet delicious dish of tempered potatoes, highlight the essence of 'Hing'' and is enjoyed with pooris or simply as an accompaniment to other dishes on the spread. Pickles throughout India use 'Hing' for its high flavour and aroma; 'Hing' usually works best with ghee; however, in pickling, you will experience the aromatic combination of 'Hing' with mustard oil to bring out an irresistible flavour.

Chaat vendors across India emphasise how they use Hing in their dishes, from flavouring the spicy water for Golgappas to using it in doughs and gravies; clever usage of hing makes all the difference. Chaat Masala, the incredible spice mix, is the secret of all chaat vendors worth their salt; However, the important role high-quality hing plays in a good chaat masala is no secret.

Be it the hilly regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, The Eastern states of Bihar, Odisha and Assam, the northern plains of Haryana and Punjab, or even across the border in Pakistan and Bangladesh, 'Hing' is a widely used spice. It’s hard to find a region of India not using 'Hing'; some use it more than others. However, our cuisines from east to west and north to south use 'Hing' extensively.

In South Indian Cuisines, 'Hing' is an indispensable flavour! South Indian cuisines offer many dishes where the tempering of 'Hing', mustard seeds and curry leaves form the foundational flavour. 'Hing' is known in South India by various names like ’Inguva’, ‘Perungayam’, 'Hing’, ‘Kayam’ etc. Who doesn’t love a flavourful ‘Sambhar’, ‘Rasam’ or buttermilk? Many simple vegetarian curries are cooked to such delicious taste with the distinct flavour of the 'Hing' tempering. Thus, it’s not surprising that India’s most famous brand of compounded 'Hing', ‘Laljee Godhoo (LG’), commenced its journey from Chennai (Capital of Tamilnadu) more than 125 years ago. And today, they are exporting it globally. Although the usage of 'Hing' is not much known in European or western cuisines, the culinary world is now slowly opening up to the use of this king of spices, 'Hing'.

We Indians are lucky to be exposed to such beautiful spices and indigenous techniques in our cuisines. So, let’s raise a toast of a Hing-tempered ‘Sol Kadi’, or ‘Buttermilk’, and celebrate the beautiful cuisines of India. Cheers!

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.