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The age-old ingredient that Indian cuisine can't do without.
It only takes one ingredient to start an interesting conversation: Asafoetida.
Asafoetida is one of the oldest recorded spices in the culinary history of the subcontinent. KT Achaya (in Indian Food) mentions black pepper (maricha) and asafoetida (hingu) as the main spices when the Aryans settled. Today the best asafoetida comes from Afghanistan, the most popular variety of hing in the wholesale markets of Delhi is the white Kabuli Hing.
Asafoetida is the dried latex secreted from the taproot of several species of Ferula native to regions of Central Asia such as Iran and Afghanistan. It takes its name from its pungent smell - asa is the Latinized form of Aza (which translates to mastic or chewing gum), while fetidus in Latun refers to smelling.
Therefore, the trivial name of this herb is stinking gum and it is often referred to as devil's dung or devil's food. The French take it one step further - it's known as merde du Diabl or Devil's shit.
It is extremely tart when raw, but once cooked in fat it becomes subtle and aromatic. Asafoetida is a resin that needs to be stabilized. In North India, wheat flour is used while rice flour is the preferred stabilizer in India.
LG (Laljee Godhoo) has been a household name since the 1800s, especially in South India. LG was one of the first brands to introduce the handy powder version in the 1980s. Like Kashmiri Pandits who traditionally do not use onion or garlic in their cooking, asafoetida is the preferred flavor ingredient for many communities in India such as the Jains.