Asafetida Facts – What is it and where do I find it?
Several CCF recipes, and many recipes on other FODMAP-related websites, call for a spice called “asafoetida” (my US spell checker wants to call it “asafetida,” so let’s go with that). Here are some asafetida facts:
- It takes the place of onion and/or garlic surprisingly well – half a teaspoon or less can flavor a whole pot of soup or stew. It’s fantastic in chili.
- Since it contains none of the problematic sugars found in onion or garlic, FODMAP dieters can tolerate it. Introduce it as you would any other “new food,” by monitoring your sensitivity.
- It’s an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Who knew?
- The raw powder smells VERY strong. That’s because it contains several sulfur compounds. Fortuitously, the stinkiest ones (2-butyl 1-propenyl disulfide and other disulfides, for you curious folks) are broken down by the heat of cooking. This leaves only diallyl sulfide, which is also in onions and garlic. Voila—the delicious “bite” you’ve been missing.
- That doesn’t change the fact that in its uncooked state, the disulfides make this spice STINK. Store it double wrapped in an airtight container that you never hope to use for anything else. I use a dedicated measuring spoon, too.
- I found it at my local food co-op. Since it’s widely used in Indian cooking (dal, lentil curries, etc.) you might also find it in a store with a good ethnic food section. It’s also available online, but when I checked around, 9 out of 10 sites were “out of stock.” Buy local if you can, even though this wasn’t produced locally. You’ll still support your small-retailing friends and neighbors.
- It was brought to Europe by Alexander the Great, and the first recorded mention was in eighth-century-BC Babylon, so it’s been around a long, long time.
- It’s produced by digging the soil away from the taproot of a 3-5 foot plant that’s in the same botanical family as carrots – Ferula assafoetida, of the family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae – and it’s native to Afghanistan. They gash the root and let the sap ooze out. It slowly solidifies into a dark brown blob. Maybe that (and the stench) is why one of its folk names is “devil’s dung.” The spice is also called “hing.”
- It’s used medicinally in Thailand and India to aid digestion – and counteract flatulence – and some people believe it contains natural antivirals. But here in the “west,” we have medicines for those conditions that don’t smell so terrible … so I do not recommend using asafetida as medicine. Just enjoy its flavor—cooked—in your soup or casserole.
- Or this tasty chili.
Here’s an entertaining article on asafetida. With pictures!