Asafoetida is a gum-resin, a hard substance extracted from Ferula plant roots. After extraction, it is dried and then ground to make a yellow-coloured, coarse Hing powder. It is commonly used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes. Largely used as a spice in Iran and India for flavouring pickles, meatballs, and curries, it is known to enhance an umami flavour in savoury foods.
Asafetida is known for its pungent, strong odour, which it gets from the high concentration of sulphur compounds present in it. Sometimes, it is also known as stinking gum due to its harsh smell that some people may find unpleasant. However, when added to food, its smell and flavour becomes palatable and feel similar to garlic, leeks, and sometimes meat.
Apart from adding a unique flavour and aroma to the food, Hing is also used as a digestive aid and for menstrual issues in traditional medicine. For instance, in Ayurveda, it helps aid gas and digestion, and also for treating kidney stones and bronchitis. People in the Middle Ages used to dry the gum and wear it around their necks to prevent diseases and infections. Even today, Indian mothers and grandmothers apply Hing on a crying infant’s belly button to extract gas and relieve bloating.
Despite being used by people for hundreds of years, many of its uses and benefits are still not known. Here, you are going to find all the relevant information you need to know about Asafoetida.
Typically, asafoetida contains 25% endogenous gum, 40-65% resin, 1.5-10% ash, and 10-17% volatile oil. The resin part contains A and B asaresinotannols, umbelliferone, ferulic acid, and other unidentified compounds. The volatile oil part contains a variety of organosulfide compounds, including diallyl disulfide, diallyl sulfide, dimethyl trisulfide, and 2-butyl-propenyl-disulfide. Organosulfides are known to give Hing its distinct flavour and odour.
Asafoetida is primarily obtained from the Ferula assa-foetida plant, which belongs to Apiaceae, the family of carrots. The entire plant can be used as a vegetable. The inner part of its stem is often considered a delicacy. It is a large plant that can grow up to a height of 2 metres. It gets ready to yield Hing in a period of around four years. When it’s ready, its stems are cut down near the root, from where a white milky juice starts flowing out. When allowed to set, it turns into a hard mass of resin. Freshly exposed asafoetida is translucent white in appearance, but with exposure to air, it starts darkening and turns into pink and then reddish-brown.
Potential Benefits of Asafoetida
Asafoetida is known to offer a wide range of health benefits, including the following:
Rich in Antioxidants
Hing is known to be an excellent source of antioxidants. Therefore, it can keep your cells protected against free radical damage, thereby preventing conditions like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, chronic inflammation, etc. Asafoetida contains phenolic compounds in high amounts, including flavonoids and tannins, that are known to offer potential antioxidant benefits.
One of the most known benefits of asafoetida is that it is helpful with indigestion. People with moderate or severe indigestion may take asafoetida regularly to experience improvements in digestion, bloating, and overall life quality. It also increases the action of digestive enzymes, thereby boosting digestion. It is also known to increase bile release from the liver, which ultimately leads to better digestion of fat. It is a frequently used spice to prevent or reduce gas after meals.
Reduces IBS Symptoms
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a chronic condition related to your gastrointestinal health. Its symptoms include abdominal discomfort or pain, gas, constipation, bloating, and diarrhoea. Owing to its potential digestive benefits, it can be highly helpful in reducing IBS symptoms.
Garlic and onion contain fructans in high amounts, which are fermentable and indigestible carbohydrates causing gastrointestinal stress in people with IBS. So, a person suffering from IBS may use asafoetida powder as a substitute for garlic and onion in cooking. As Hing provides an aromatic flavour to the food similar to garlic and onion, it can be an excellent option for you if you want to limit your consumption of foods containing high fructan amounts.
Other Potential Benefits
Apart from the above, Hing is known to offer the following benefits as well:
- Antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial effects: Asafoetida can protect against various potential pathogens, like different strains of Streptococcus bacteria.
- Reduction in blood pressure: Asafoetida can relax your blood vessels, thereby help in lowering blood pressure.
- Anticancer benefits: Asafoetida can help inhibit the spread and growth of some cancer cells, including liver and breast cancer.
- Protection to brain health: Hing can also help in protecting against nerve damage and memory loss in the brain.
- Eased asthma symptoms: By relaxing the airway smooth muscles, it can be effective in aiding asthma treatment.
- Reduction in blood sugar levels: Asafoetida extract is found to reduce fasting blood sugar levels in some studies.
All in all, Hing has a high antioxidant concentration that can provide several health benefits, especially for digestive health. However, when used in cooking, a very small amount of Hing powder is added to the dish, which may not be enough to deliver the desired effects. Therefore, more research needs to be conducted to confirm these benefits in humans.
Ways to Use Asafoetida
Asafoetida powder has been used for hundreds of years to add flavour to dishes. Ancient Romans stored Hing with pine nuts in jars as used it as a seasoning. Today, you can commonly find labelled Hing powder in both online and offline stores. However, if you are looking for a gluten-free option, look for a product that is not blended with wheat, but rice flour.
For use in cooking, add it to the hot oil to control its sulphurous smell and flavour. You may also pair it with other spices like cumin and turmeric to give umami, savoury flavour to vegetable-based and lentil dishes. French people often use it to add a distinct flavour to their steaks. Here are the three best ways to use Hing while cooking:
- Using Hing in its Pure Form: Many chefs and home cooks prefer Hing in its pure form, which is brown lumps. It is more pungent and has a fresh flavour. You need to use it in a very small quantity than Hing powder. Crush a piece of Hing and mix it in water to make a smooth paste. Finally, add it to a dish to bring out its real flavours. Making this paste and adding it to the dish helps in easy mixing and blending. If you directly add the lumps, they do not dissolve and leave an unpleasant after-taste.
Another great way to use Hing is to roast it in hot oil for 5-10 seconds before adding other ingredients. You have to do this quickly, as too much heat can burn the Hing easily. While you can add Hing powder towards the end of cooking, as it helps in retaining its aroma, if you are using pure Hing, add it while cooking. Hing lumps are pungent, and the longer cooking time mellows it down a bit. This is an excellent way to use asafoetida in lentils and vegetable curries but remember to add lumps in the beginning.
- Steeping in Hot Water: Another method is to steep Hing in hot water and later use that water to make a base for sambar, soups, or leafy greens. Add some Hing to a small bowl and pour boiling water on it. Let it steep for 2-3 minutes. Finally, strain the water flavoured with Hing and add it to your dish. Hing is known to add a special umami flavour and distinct savouriness to your food. You may also use Hing powder with yogurt for marinating meat. Asafetida is a very strong spice that has the power to transform your food into magic. Its intense flavour and musky aroma are just a few pinches away.
Hing powder, asafetida, or asafoetida, is a savoury spice that can add umami quality to your dishes. It is the dried sap of a plant that people have been using for ages to receive its unique flavour and potential health benefits.
Known to be rich in antioxidants, it is known to deliver a wide range of health benefits. However, more research needs to be done to prove its effects, especially among humans. By the time, avoid using it in extremely high amounts, especially among breastfeeding mothers, pregnant ladies, and young children, as its side effects are still unknown. However, the tiny quantity used in cooking is relatively safe for all.
Still, while the health benefits of Asafoetida are not yet proved, you can keep using it for its culinary effects. Keep it in your spice cabinet and add a pinch to your curries, soups, stews, and lentils to add a savoury, umami quality to them. Use any of the ways mentioned above to use Hing in cooking the way you like and prefer.
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