Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mistress of Spices - Asafoetida / Hing

My stock of asafoetida

Mythili of Vindhu has urged us food-bloggers to write about our favourite spice for her event 'Mistress of Spices'. And no, we are not talking about Aishwarya Rai here, as Mythili too is prompt to point out. (A more apt title for Ms. AR would be 'Mistress of Failed Relationships', whaddya say? Anyway, her personal life is none of our business, right? Right??)

Coming back to the spices, I chose to write about Asafoetida because
a) It is one of my favourite spices. Meaning I would feel handicapped, if I didn't have it in my kitchen.
b) I use it a lot. A lot more than my mother and the women in my parents' families. It is the Konkani influence, I guess. (A proof of that is that my mother-in-law says the word 'Hingu' at least five times, when she is explaining a recipe to me, and that even when the recipe does not include asafoetida. )
c) I have three small plastic bottles of asafoetida in my kitchen drawer right now. Need I say more?

So, here are the facts regarding Asafoetida

Name

Asafoetida gets its name from the Persian aza, for resin, and the Latin foetidus, for stinking. Its pungent odour has earned itself a lot of mean names e.g. it is called Teufelsdreck in German (literally meaning Devil's Dung). C'mon, it's not that bad, is it? In many North Indian languages and in Marathi, it is called 'Hing'; in Konkani 'Hingu'; in Telugu 'Inguva' and in Tamil 'Perungaayam'. Please do let me know in your comment the name for asafoetida in your language, in case it is not mentioned here.

Cultivation and Harvest

Asafoetida is mainly grown in Iran (the country of its origin), Afghanistan and in India. Can you guess where it is grown in India? In the land of saffron, Kashmir. Surprising, isn't it? I didn't know this until I started looking for information about this spice on the internet, thanks to Mythili.

The plant of asafoetida is found in natural forests, where rarely anything else grows. It grows about 2 metres tall, and is useful only once it is about four years old. The older the plant, the more productive it is. The time to start harvesting the gum from the rather succulent stem and the root is just before flowering, which is in the months of March / April.

An incision is made in the upper part of the root/lower part of the stem and the exuding gum/latex is collected. Several incisions can be made in the root/stem till there is no more gum oozing. This process can last up to three months and one plant can yield up to 2 pounds of gum. The resinous gum is greyish-white when fresh, and darkens to a deep yellow/amber when dried. Chunks of asafoetida resin are broken off to be sold commercially. The gum is seldom sold in its pure form. It is often combined with Arabic gum, wheat/rice flour, turmeric, etc. and sold as Compounded Asafoetida.

Which brings us to its Culinary Uses

I will write here about the use of this spice only in Indian cuisine, because I am not familiar with any other.

1. Asafoetida is used in many ways in lentil and/or vegetable preparations. Three ways known to me are
a) Adding the powder/granules to the hot oil while making Tadka.
b) Adding the powder to the preparation just before turning the heat off and putting the lid on.
c) Adding water in which a piece of asafoetida has been dissolved to the preparation before putting the lid in the end.

2. Asafoetida is used as an important condiment in pickles, relishes/chutneys and papads.

Asafoetida is usually used only in minute quantities, because even a little of it goes a long way. Although its smell is strong (I like it actually) when raw, it turns into a pleasant aroma when cooked. Indian preparations with lentils and beans are quite unthinkable without the use of this spice. The reason being its medicinal properties.

Medicinal Properties

The biggest property of asafoetida is that it aids digestion. It can lesson flatulence and give relief from painful gas. Since lentils and beans are supposed to be hard to digest, it is always a good idea to add a pinch of this stinking gum to the dish.

A medicine that comes to my mind when I think of asafoetida is the Ayurvedic preparation, Hingashtak Choorna. Earlier, families used to have their own recipies of Hingashtak, because it is apparently easy to make, since the other herbs and spices, which go into it are easy to find in an Indian kitchen. I don't think it is made at home any longer. However, several boards advertising the Choorna of various brands are always hanging in drug stores/pharmacies back in Pune.

An interesting fact that I came across on this website was that it was believed that asafoetida enhanced singers' voices. In the days of the Moghul aristocracy, the court singers of Agra and Delhi would eat a spoonful of asafoetida with butter and practise on the banks of the river Yamuna.

A common home remedy up my sleeve for painful gas is to have a generous pinch of asafoetida dissolved in buttermilk or lukewarm water. You tend to give out a loud and hearty burp (A happy burp? ;-)) within minutes of drinking it, and that gives immediate relief. However, never have more than 1/8th of a teaspoon of asafoetida at one time. Otherwise, it can result in loose motions.

Do you know of any other home remedies using asafoetida? Please do let me know.

For some more information on this spice, please visit here.

(And by the way, can you guess what the white plastic bottle at the back in the picture on top is standing on?)

36 comments:

Mythili said...

Vaish,
This is an awesome write-up about hing. *hug* *hug*
No dirty thinking puh-leaseeee !!
Thanks for participating :D

Neelu said...

vaishali, good writing , a lot of info on spice we use evryday.
Good job !

Nabeela said...

amazing facts.....its so weird how we never realize every spice has a history...we only think of it as a kitchen esssential and never as a thing by itself...anyways, good write-up

Ashwini said...

very very nice. I particularly liked the "devil's dung" part. You Germans are so rude :-)
What is it standing on? Do tell

Vineela said...

Hi Vaishali,
Nice entry .
Without this cooking and kitchen is "adhoora".I love the smell of hing.
Nice writeup.
Thanks for sharing.
Vineela

Anonymous said...

Hi HappyBurp,
Asafoetida(Inguva/Hing) can be used to releive toothache.
Heat a spoonful of fresh lime/lemon juice for 20 seconds(luke warm) in a small pan on stove top. Take it out of stove and immediately add 2 pinches of Asafoetida.Mix well. Dip in it a ball of cotton and put on the tooth that troubles you. You can feel the relief within fw minutes.

perspective said...

I can smell it as i see it...
Its such an important part of everyday cooking with me... i dont make a thing without it...

And trust me i had no clue about these details... I always thought it was some sort of rock! honest!
thanks for the info though..very insightful.

And which white bottle are u talking about lady???

Vaishali said...

Mythili, thanks for coming up with this idea. It was great fun finding out the information and then writing it out. I reciprocate the hugs. :)

Thanks, Neelu. I appreciate that you have been so regular with your comments at my blog. Thank you so much.

That's very well said, Nabeela. Thanks.

Ashwini, this is getting personal now!!! Say "I love Germans" five times, or else I am gonna have to report you. LOL
Btw, the white bottle is standing on a pressure-cooker whistle. :) :) :)

Vineela, asafoetida indeed has a heady smell, doesn't it? Thanks for stopping by.

Anon, thank you so much for that home remedy. I really appreciate it.

Perspective, shall we found a 'Hing Lovers' Club' then? :) I am sure you are not the only one to think that it is a rock.
Btw, it is the bottle standing behind. With a white lid. It looks as though it is standing on the yellow one, but a closer look and you know that it isn't. Please see my reply to Ashwini for more info!

Anonymous said...

Hing water is used for stomach ache due to indigestion.Best results are achieved by dissolving a piece of hing(not the compounded powder)in a teaspoon of water and then having it.

Vaishali said...

Thanks for the tip, Anon.

Anonymous said...

If you have stomachache due to gas or indigestion, take a pinch of hing and apply it on your belly button, it will give the much needed relief. I don't know how it works but it always does for me. This is especially helpful with small babies and children.

Anusha

Mythili said...

Vaish,I still cannot figure where the cooker whistle is. I see only 3 plastic bottles - one blue, one yellow and one white, and a spoon. What exactly were you wanting us to guess :(

Linda said...

Vaishali, thank you so much for this great information about asafoetida -- it's the one spice in my new collection that has fascinated me most. Your strawberry cake looks great, too!

Best wishes :)

Vaishali said...

Anusha, that's a great tip there. I am sure it works for babies. Thank you so much.

Mythili, the small container with a white lid is standing on the whistle. I have hidden it, so you can't really see it. I know, it was impossible to guess it. I just tried to add some mystery-cum-fun to the post. Maybe, on second thoughts, it was a lousy idea.

Thanks for peeping in, Linda. Please keep coming.

Aparna said...

hi Vaishali That was good info about hing.. my father in law makes small tabs out of hing with additions of other ingre.. which helps stomach.
Thanks

Vaishali said...

Aparna, asafoetida is always so good for the stomach. Thanks for stopping by.

Inji Pennu said...

This is a great post on perungayam or kaayam as it is known in Malayalam.

I too thot for sometime it is a piece of rock. Great post!

paras said...

I WAS NOT EXPECTING ANY THING ON HING ON THIS SITE BUT TO MY UTMOST SURPRISE U HAVE WRITTEN SO MUCH ON HING.WE ARE SELLING HING FROM LAST 100 YEARS

Anonymous said...

Asafoetida is a god antibiotic as well. It is high in sulpha variants and good for chronic infestions whwn taken orally (do not use topical as I have nt read any literature hat supports its topical use. It is a good detox for so may toxins in the body. Supports liver function too.

lovelorn said...

Hi there.

I was wondering if you by any chance know where or whom I could speak (or type, rather) to, on the this herb / spice.

Just saw the AR movie this morning & remember a line about asafoetida & love? Well, have been scouring (googling more like) for some time now & all I found were info on its medicinal properties.

Anyway, I'd appreciate any help I can get from you :-)

Thanks in advance!

Binoy Gupta said...

Dear Vaishali
I liked your blog.
I have written about Hing in my travel blog.
Do go through it and post your comments, it any.
Binoy Gupta
http://indianbureaucratsdiary.blogspot.com/
And if you like, add a link to my blog. I will also do the same.

Archana said...

Hey nice write up. I also heard that Hing(in Kannada its known as just ing...the Ha is not pronounced)is not used when there is the use of garlic and onions. Is that known to some of them atleast or am I wrong?

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Abha said...

Totally amazed about the history of hing... I use it regularly in cooking but never knew how it is prpared..
Good Job

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AADHI said...

HII,
Your writeup is really fantastic.
You can be crowned as Queen of Asafoetida.
Thanks a lot.
Aadhikeshavan

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Anonymous said...

I read on Wikipedia this cannot be used by pregnant women. Is this okay for women who aren't pregnant but want to be? Are there any limitation of it for women?

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