Country of origin: Pakistan
Asafetida or Asafoetida gum powder
Asafoetida is the dried dark resin that comes from various species of the Ferula plant, a perennial, fragrant plant that looks like a giant fennel, native to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is believed that asafoetida replaced the use of silphium, a plant whose resin was used as a spice and medicine in prehistoric times in Rome, Egypt and Knossos.
In order to produce the asafetida resin, shortly before the flowering of the plants, the stems are cut near their roots. A milky latex substance makes its appearance through the stems, which as soon as it comes in contact with the air, it hardens and darkens acquiring a brownish-red color. These resinous tears of asafetida do not have a strong smell. However, when ground and powdered, they release volatile sulfur oils, which are responsible for their very strong and unpleasant odor. For asafetida powder only a minimal amount of resin is required to give this characteristic odor. Asafetida powder is reminiscent of the penetrating smell of truffle, fenugreek and garlic, it is strong and not pleasant at all. However, when the powder is added to a little hot oil it immediately sweetens both in taste and aroma and resembles the sweet smeel of sauteed onions. In fact, in some parts of India asafoetida is used to replace the use of garlic and onion in cooking.
Asafetida, although it comes from Iran and Afghanistan, it is used mainly in Indian cuisine. It is found as an ingredient in several Indian curries and masalas. Use it sparingly, as a small amount is enough to season soups, legumes, pickles and sauces. Asafetida goes well with most vegetables as well as fish.