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Not many know about the secret Indian spice called Asafoetida used in many Indian dishes to replace onion and garlic. Read along to find out what is asafoetida and how you may have unknowingly tasted in many times!
What Is Asafoetida? The Lesser Known Secret Indian Spice
Asafoetida ( pronounced as Asa-feh-ti -daah), disguised under an all singing and dancing name is a serious spice which not many know about.
Actually, it may not be all that unpopular, because believe it or not, I am sure you may have tasted it many a time while eating out in your favourite Indian joint or behold…… in Worcestershire sauce ( as per reviews)!!
It is not just the spelling which is odd and unusual about this spice.
The lovingly given pet name of ‘devils dung’ may give you a hint of what the spice may taste of !!
Yes, you guessed it right, it is not a love at first smell kind of spice.
It’s more like an arranged marriage, where the love takes some time to grow.
I call it odd-smelling because unlike other spices which make you go ‘aaaahhhh’ this spice will make you go ‘yuucccckkkk’.
But in reality, it is one of the main spices that no vegetarian or India home can do without.
The overpowering smell, unusual appearance, the foul smell, the awkward pronunciation are all attempts to misguide you away from this mysterious, health beneficial and flavourful spice.
We Indians just don’t want the world to know about this secret spice of ours 🙂 !!
But I will be kind and share all that I know about this mysterious spice called Asafoetida, its uses for cooking, benefits and buying guide.
What Does Asafoetida Look Like?
Asafoetida is a resin.
Its a gum from the sap of the roots or stem of a giant fennel like plant species called Avant.
Asafoetida comes as coarse powder or in solid gum like rock form.
Asafoetida powder is popularly used in cooking.
My grandmom used to buy Asafoetida in a solid lump as it had a stronger aroma. ( or smell to be more precise)
Although solid or coarse in form, another unique quality of this spice is its ability to disintegrate or dissolve in liquid, just like salt or sugar!!
This means you will not see any traces of asafoetida in the dish but be able to taste it.
Other Names of Asafoetida
English – Asafoedita, Asafetida, devils dung
Indian – Hing, heeng (in Hindi)
German – Asant, Stinkasant, Teufelsdreck, Asafötida
French – Asa-fœtida, Asa-fétida, Férule persique, Merde du diable, Ase fètide
Flavour Profile of Spice
Asafoetida spice undoubtedly falls under the umami or pungent category of flavour.
It is a bitter and heavy spice when uncooked or in raw form, smelling almost like sulfur.
I am very aware that my description so far about Asafoetida as a spice has been less than convincing.
The truth be told, this spice it deceptive when it comes to taste and appearance.
Although it may not look the part and smell far from an aromatic spice, it does wonders in enhancing the taste of the dish.
The magic starts as soon as the tiny seeds hit the warm oil.
The taste considerably changes when added and cooked in a dish to replicate the taste and smell of garlic and onions.
This is the reason for its popularity in many vegetarian households in India especially those who do not consume root vegetables. (know as Jains)
The Uses of Asafoetida In Cooking
The most important thing to keep in mind when cooking with Asafoedita is to use it sparingly.
A little imparts a strong taste so a pinch or half a tsp to a serving of 4-6 is advisable.
There are different ways to use this spice for cooking.
You can either add it directly in hot oil (tempering method), in between the cooking process along with other ingredients or add it to other liquid such as water, tamarind pulp, tomato juice etc.
Few also advocate soaking it in a small amount of water before using it for cooking as it brings out a stronger taste.
I advise you to give this spice a try especially if you enjoy eating vegetarian food or are on a gluten-free diet or intolerant to garlic and onions.
It may surprise you to know that this spice is used in many popular Indian spice blends which you may already be using such as Chat Masala, Sambar Powder, few curry powder recipes as well!
You can add it to lentil or vegetable soups.
Add a dash with other spices for making a spice rub.
Other than cooking it can also be used as a pickling spice.
Benefits of Asafoetida
Combats Flatulence – Asafoetida soaked in water, made into a paste and rubbed onto tummies as been an age old Ayurvedic remedy to relieve flatulence in babies, toddlers, children and adults.
Helps to eliminate respiratory problems – Asafoetida paste can also be applied on the chest to alleviate symptoms such as asthma, cough and chest infection
Aids digestion – Adding a pinch of asafoetida to food that causes bloating in the stomach such as lentils, legumes, cauliflower, cabbage, radish etc helps to make digestion faster and easier.
A good substitute for Onion or Garlic allergies or intolerance – Asafoetida is a very good alternative to replicate the flavour and taste of onion and garlic. So good for those who are intolerant to the two.
Reduces skin infection – You can also use asafoetida paste on to pimples, insect bite and other minor skin problems to reduce inflammation and itchiness and speed up healing.
Where To Buy Asafoedita
There are two different forms of asafoetida available. One that comes in a solid form that is brown in colour while another in a powder form mostly yellow in colour.
The more popular of the two is the powdered yellow variety as its easier to use for cooking and has a much milder aroma.
You can buy it in larger quantity and store it for later use or small quantities in bottles or jars.
UK and rest of Europe
How to Store Asafoetida
As asafoetida has a very powerful smell, its best to store it in an airtight container in a slight distance from other spices.
Store it away from any direct light and heat.
Make sure that the lid is tightly sealed or you can put it in another plastic container or bag. The reason for this is that the oils in asafoetida are very volatile and can overpower your entire spice drawer if not secured well.
Well stored and packed asafoetida powder will keep its character and flavour for almost a year.
Best Food and Spice matching With Asafoetida
Asafoetida powder is primarily used for vegetarian dishes and goes well with most vegetables, legumes, lentils, rice and other spices.
Best food pairing: beans, cauliflower, cabbage, chicken, curry, eggplant, ginger, lamb, lentils, peas, potatoes, rice, soups, stews, green leafy vegetables, orange and red vegetables
Best spice pairing: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, dry chilies, turmeric
Spice Substitute for Asafoetida
If asafoetida is not your thing or the recipe calls to add it, then you can substitute it with onion powder or garlic powder.
Fresh garlic, onions, shallots or leeks are also other options.
Easy Recipes with Asafoetida to Try
KOBI BATETA NU SHAAK (Cabbage stir fried with simple spices)
Buy Spices Online
Avail the convenience to get a range of spices, special ingredients and regular grocery delivered straight to your door without any hassle.
You can visit the Shopping For Ingredients section of the blog to see a range of spices, kitchenware and gift ideas.
Below are my recommended online stores.
US Residents – Thrive Market ( Get 20% off with your first 3 orders )
I may have not done complete justice to this mysterious Indian spice in trying to explain the benefits of Asafoetida, but in all honesty, this is one of my most favourite spices I diligently use in many of my dishes.
Not only does asafoetida act as a natural flavour enhancer it also has many underlining health benefits.
It is a go-to spice when I cook pulses or vegetables that can cause bloating or produce excess gas !! ( I could live without the natural sound effects)
So next time you go to eat out and order daal or a vegetable curry, eat it first and then check with the chef if it had any asafoetida added to it.
If yes, it may surprise you to know that you just tasted the devil’s dung without being knocked out!!
I would love to hear your experience of tasting or cooking with asafoetida, so please do share it here by leaving a comment below.
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