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What Is Asafoetida? Cooking Uses, Benefits And Substitutes

What Is Asafoetida? Cooking Uses, Benefits And Substitutes

Not many know about the secret Indian spice called Asafoetida or Hing used in many Indian dishes.  Read along to find out what is asafoetida, why is it used in cooking and how to use it many different ways to reap the health benefits. 

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You may have come across Indian recipes that list Asafoetida on the ingredients list. But what is Asafoetida or Hing, as it is called in Hindi and why should you cook with it? This post lists the benefits, uses, substitutes and suggestions on where to buy Asafoetida.

Pronounced as Asa-feh-ti -daah , disguised under an all singing and dancing name is a serious spice which may not be known to many.

The traditional uses of asafoetida is to make vegetarian Indian meals.

It is not just the spelling which is odd and unusual about this spice.

Read along and find out what is Asafoetida powder and how to use it for cooking?

What Is Asafoetida?

Asafoetida is a gum resin added to dishes to enhance flavour.

It is difficult to define asafoetida in few words. The overpowering smell, unusual appearance, the awkward pronunciation are all attempts to misguide you away from this mysterious, health beneficial and flavourful spice.

We Indians just don’t want the world to know about this secret spice of ours 🙂 !!

You may have tasted it many a times while eating out in your favourite Indian joint or behold……  in Worcestershire sauce ( as per this article)!!

Other Names of Asafoetida

English – Asafoedita, Asafetida, devils dung

Indian – Hing, heeng (in Hindi),

Asafoetida in German –  Asant, Stinkasant, Teufelsdreck, Asafötida

Asafoetida in French – Asa-fœtida, Asa-fétida, Férule persique, Merde du diable, Ase fètide

Asafoetida in Spanish – El barco navega lejos

How Is Asafoetida Made And What Does It Look Like?

Asafoetida is a resin. That is, it is not the usual part of a plant that spices are made of like seeds, leaf or bark.

Its a gum from the sap of the roots or stem of a giant fennel like plant species called Avant.

There are two types of hing spice that can be used for cooking purposes:

  1. Asafoetida powder – which is the most common type sold and used for cooking

2. Asafoetida Rock –  which is the solid gum form and needs to be either soaked in water ground into powder.

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Types of Asafoetida – Rock or Asafoetida powder

My grandmom used to buy Asafoetida in a solid lump as it had a stronger aroma. ( or smell to be more precise)

Although solid or coarse in form, another unique quality of this spice is the ability to disintegrate or dissolve in liquid, just like salt or sugar!!

This means you will not see any traces of asafoetida in the dish but be able to taste it.

Asafoetida Taste & Smell

Dont be put off by the lovingly given name of ‘devils dung’ as a hint on what does asafoetida taste like!

Hing spice powder and rock form both have a unique aroma so not really a love at first smell kind of spice.

I call it odd-smelling because unlike other spices which make you go ‘aaaahhhh’ this spice will make you go ‘yuucccckkkk’.

Asafoetida spice undoubtedly falls under the umami or pungent category of flavour.

It is a bitter and heavy spice when uncooked or in raw form, smelling almost like sulfur, some also describe hing smell as boiled eggs.

I am very aware that my description so far about Asafoetida as a spice has been less than convincing.

The truth be told, this spice is deceptive when it comes to asafoetida flavour, taste, smell and appearance.

Although it may not look the part and smell far from an aromatic spice, it does wonders in enhancing the taste of the dish.

The magic starts as soon as the powder hits the warm oil, adding

The taste considerably changes when added and cooked in a dish to replicate the taste and smell of garlic and onions.

It is a must- have spice in many vegetarian households in India especially those who do not consume root vegetables. (know as Jains)

How To Use Asafoetida In Cooking

It may surprise you to know that hing spice is used in many popular Indian spice blends which you may already be using such as Chat Masala, Sambar Powder, few curry powder recipes as well!

When cooking with asafoetida ensure to cook it well as it is not a seasoning that can be sprinkled on top.

The transformation of the asafoetida flavour from being strong to aromatic only happens once you cook the spice. So, use hing during the cooking process or temper it in oil as the first step before adding other ingredients.

Adding asafoetida in curry or Indian dishes somehow makes it taste more Indian.

However, uses of hing in cooking is not just limited to Indian dishes.

You can add hing to make different types of dishes. Below are some ideas on how to use asafoetida spice for cooking.

  1. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of hing spice in warm oil with other spices and before adding vegetables (tempering method) for making an aromatic stir fry. Check out this 15 minutes green beans with coconut . Check out this recipe for a dish idea.
  2. Add it in between the cooking process along with other ingredients while making the base curry sauce.
  3. Soak a tsp of whole or powdered asafoetida in water and add it to other liquid such as water, tamarind pulp, tomato juice, soya sauce to make sauces.
  4. Add it to lentils, legumes or vegetable soups, stews and casseroles.
  5. Add a dash with other spices such as black pepper, cumin powder, cayenne pepper for making a spice rub.
  6. Use asafoetida as a pickling spice along with mustard seeds or black seeds.

How Much Asafoedita To Use

If you are new to using asafoetida then it may be useful for you to know when to add hing in cooking and how much hing to use.

The most important thing to keep in mind when cooking with this Indian spice is to use it sparingly.

A little imparts a strong taste so a pinch or half a tsp to a serving of 4-6 is advisable.

If you have asafoetida rock then soak it in a small amount of water to dissolve it before using it for cooking.

You can soak asafoetida powder as well in water if you wish to bring out a stronger taste.

Is Asafoetida Good For You?

If you are allergic to onions or do not like the strong smell of garlic then this Indian hing spice is a brilliant alternative.

Apart from this, Asafoetida has many health benefits and has been used as part of Ayurvedic medicine especially if you suffer from digestive disorders.

We discuss the benefits in detail below.

What-is-asafoetida-blog-post pinterest image on the benefits and uses of asafoetida

What Are The Health Benefits of  Asafoetida  

Combats Flatulence – Asafoetida soaked in water, made into a paste and rubbed onto tummies as been an age old Ayurvedic remedy to relieve flatulence in babies, toddlers, children and adults.

Helps to eliminate respiratory problems – Asafoetida paste can also be applied on the chest to alleviate symptoms such as asthma, cough and chest infection

Aids digestion –  Adding a pinch of asafoetida to food that causes bloating in the stomach such as lentils, legumes, cauliflower, cabbage, radish etc helps to make digestion faster and easier.

A good substitute for Onion or Garlic allergies or intolerance  – Asafoetida is a very good alternative to replicate the flavour and taste of onion and garlic. So good for those who are intolerant to the two.

Reduces skin infection – You can also use asafoetida paste on to pimples, insect bite and other minor skin problems to reduce inflammation and itchiness and speed up healing.

What Foods and Spices Go Well With Asafoetida

Asafoetida powder is primarily used for vegetarian dishes and goes well with most vegetables, legumes, lentils, rice and other spices.

Best food pairing: beans, cauliflower, cabbage, chicken, eggplant, ginger, lamb, lentils, peas, potatoes, rice, green leafy vegetables, orange and red vegetables

Best spice pairing: black seeds/nigella seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon,  cloves, coriander seeds, dry chilies, turmeric

What Are The Best Spice Substitute for Asafoetida

Although asafoetida maybe listed in many Indian recipes, they are mostly an optional spice to be added. This is because it is not a mainstream spice that is available in super markets outside of India.

Hence you can leave them out of the dish or use an alternative to hing.

If the strong smell is not your thing or the recipe calls to add it, then you use the below suggestion as asafoetida substitute:

Substitute 1 – onion powder or garlic powder.

Substitute 2 – Fresh garlic, onions, shallots or leeks are also other options.

There are two different forms of asafoetida available.

One that comes in a solid form that is dark yellow or brown in colour while another in a powder form mostly yellow in colour.

The more popular of the two is the powdered yellow variety as its easier to use for cooking and has a much milder aroma.

You can buy it in larger quantity and store it for later use or small quantities in bottles or jars.

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How to Store Asafoetida

As asafoetida has a very powerful smell, its best to store it in an airtight container in a slight distance from other spices.

Store it away from any direct light and heat.

Make sure that the lid is tightly sealed or you can put it in another plastic container or bag. The reason for this is that the oils in asafoetida are very volatile and can overpower your entire spice drawer if not secured well.

Well stored and packed asafoetida powder will keep its character and flavour for almost a year.

Uses and Benefits of Asafoetida Infographic

infographic on the benefits and uses of asafoetida in cooking

Easy Recipes with Asafoetida

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You can visit the Shopping For Ingredients section of the blog to see a range of spices, kitchenware and gift ideas.

Below are my recommended online stores.

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To Conclude 

It is very difficult to describe and define asafoetida spice unless you have tried it yourself. It is one of those mysterious spice that is hard to explain the flavour of without the normal aromatic descriptive words. It is one of my most favourite spices I diligently use in many of my dishes.

Not only does asafoetida act as a natural flavour enhancer it also has many underlining health benefits.

It is a go-to spice when I cook pulses or vegetables that can cause bloating or produce excess gas !! ( I could live without the natural sound effects)

So next time you go to eat out and order daal or a vegetable curry, eat it first and then check with the chef if it had any asafoetida added to it.

If yes, it may surprise you to know that you just tasted the devil’s dung without being knocked out!!

I would love to hear your experience of tasting or cooking with asafoetida, so please do share it here by leaving a comment below.

And as always if you think this article deserves more eyes then please do share by clicking the share and/or save buttons.

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Jehangir B Irani
Jehangir B Irani
1 year ago

Educational. Will use it in future.

2 years ago

thanks for educating me about indian spices

2 years ago
Reply to  nancy

Just recieved my hing. Going to try it today. Thank you so much for all the information on how and where and with and what for. Really appreciate it. Ginny

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