Don’t be put off by the name, which in Persian and Latin means “stinking resin”.
The Roo Sisters

12 Aug 2013 - 2:41 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2015 - 4:03 PM


Asafoetida (or asaefetida), derived from the sap of a variety of giant smelly fennel, may assault the senses at first with its pungent, sulphurous aroma, similar to that of rotten garlic, but once cooked it makes a pleasant-tasting substitute for onion and garlic. It is a milky, liquid sap extracted from the roots and stem of the perennial ferula asafoetida, which eventually darkens to brown as it dries into a resin or gum. It is sold in blocks or pieces, granules or a fine yellow powder. Only a pinch is needed, and, once heated, the harsh aroma dissipates. While not native to India (it is cultivated mainly in Afghanistan and Iran), asafoetida has long been used in Indian cooking and medicine. Its lingering reputation as an antidote for flatulence may explain why it features in many lentil dishes, and it is used to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis (it was once even believed to enhance Indian singers’ voices).

Use asafoetida in …

small quantities in vegetable curries, dhals, fish, meat or potato dishes, chutneys and pickles. Add it to the oil at the start when making a curry or cooking pappadums, or use it in a “tarka”: take any combination of cumin, nigella and mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilli, add a pinch of asafoetida, fry in a splash of oil until the seeds start to pop, and stir into a soup. This powerful spice will last a long time in a cool, dark place, but it is essential to keep it in an airtight jar as its odour will affect other foods and spices. It’s best to buy it in the powdered form, as the pieces of resin can be hard to break up.

Asafoetida goes with

onion, garlic, potato, carrot, eggplant, lentils, lamb, beef, fish, mango, tomato, chilli, turmeric, ginger, curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin.