Yes that’s one of the names for it. Asafetida, as it is normally called, is derived from the dried resin of a rhizome. Most people describe the smell of this spice as pungent and unpleasant. Think of asafetida as the frog prince. One kiss with hot oil and the spice blossoms, exuding not only the combined flavors of onion and garlic but also something more, something mysterious to a dish. If you’ve ever had South Indian food and tried to recreate it at home without using asafetida, your dish probably tasted great but not quite what you had at the restaurant.
The aroma of powdered asafetida is less strong than that of the resin and will deteriorate after a year or so. The resin form on the other hand will last forever.
Asafetida is native to Persia (Iran) and is used in that cuisine as well. Gernod Katzer’s spices pages states that asafetida was brought to Europe as early as Alexander the Great’s time. Devil’s Dung is actually a translation of the German and French names for this spice.
You might have noticed that many Indian recipes that include lentils call for this spice. Indian recipes may also refer to asafetida as hing. Asafetida not only adds a burst of flavor but also has many health properties. It reduces bacterial build up in the intestine aiding in digestion of foods like lentils. It is also reported to be anti-viral.
Commercially available asafetida includes the powdered resin stabilized with gum, rice flour or wheat and possibly other ingredients as well (see ingredient list in the picture below). If you suffer from celiac disease, please check the ingredients as the spice used may not be gluten-free. The resin form is gluten-free but is much harder to find.
One small kiss is all it took for the frog to become a prince. So I hope you will give asafetida a try especially if you are cooking with lentils and vegetables. Who knows, your dish may get transformed! Just remember that a pinch is all it takes.
None of the kits sold on Veena’s Market use asafetida to ensure that our kits remain free of gluten ingredients. If you would like to purchase this spice, follow this link and scroll down for a couple of options.