Asafoetida is said to have originated in Rome, and despite not being native to India, it has been used in Indian medicine and cookery for ages.
In certain types of cuisine, notably Jain, asafoetida is used where there is a no-onion, no-garlic restraint.
It is a resin that is ochre in colour and it is most widely used in its powdered or granulated form, which is usually yellow in colour. The resin is difficult to grate and is traditionally crushed using mortar and pestle. The most commonly available form these days is compounded asafoetida, which contains 30 per cent resin and 70 per cent gum Arabic and rice flour or maida flour. Because of this you must examine the label carefully if you trying to remain gluten-free.
In its raw form, the smell can be quite irritating. Once cooked, however, it changes in nature and imparts a deep aroma, and a leek-like flavour to dishes. In cooking it is used to harmonize sweet, sour, salty, and spicy components in food. It is considered an aid to digestion, and is frequently used in lentil dishes.
Asafoetida is best sourced from either an Indian grocer or your specialist spice merchant. You should buy the smallest package you can as you don’t use much of it in any of the recipes in this book.