Asafoetida is not only difficult to spell or say but also is difficult to source – unless you have access to an Indian spice market. The spice is pretty new to me. I have been using it recently as a sort of substitute for the flavours of garlic and onion which I now don't tolerate very well.
So what is asafetida and how do you use it? It is the dried gum of a plant – Ferula which is a fennel like herb which grows quite tall and is cultivated in India.
The smell of this spice is not only pungent but a bit horrible – but don't be put off by that – just like other things like shrimp paste and fish sauce, the smell is not nice but the flavor when used in cooking is great. If you get some, store it in an air tight container or you'll regret it!
Another name for this spice is hing.
This spice is a staple in Indian cooking and is often paired with turmeric. It also goes well with a little cumin and ginger.
Several health benefits are claimed for this spice. Anti flatulence. Digestive aid. Fighting off the flu virus. Who knows?
To use it in non-Indian dishes it is best to use only small quantities (less than half a teaspoon) and to add it at the beginning of the dish – preferably frying it off in a little oil or coconut cream.