Sunday, November 20, 2011

Asafetida - Heeng or Hing (हिङ्ग - हींग)

Asafetida - Heeng or Hing (हिङ्ग - हींग)
Also called hingu (Sanskrit) or devil's dung, asafetida is used extensively in Nepali cooking to flavor and preserve food, as well as for its medicinal properties.  Asafetida comes from an herbaceous fennel-like perennial plant.  When mature, the stems are cut close to the roots releasing a milky substance that solidifies into brownish, gummy mass.  Asafetida is sometimes described as having an unpleasant and over powering smell, due in part to the presence of sulfur.  In Nepal, there is a saying, "hing ne bhai pani hing ko taalo cha" ("even if the asafetida is used up, its aroma lingers in the wrapping cloth").  However when used with discretion, this spice mellows and adds a pleasant aroma to prepared food.  The flavor of asafetida is definitely an acquired taste, although some people describe it as similar to shallots or garlic.
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Asafetida is readily available, labeled as hing at Indian grocery stores in powdered or solid forms.  Most powdered forms are combined with rice, corn or wheat flour to prevent lumping, or to reduce its overpowering smell, and sometimes to increase its weight.  The powdered form is convenient, but of a less intense flavor.

(L) powdered form and (R) roughly ground asafetida

The solid piece of asafetida are brown in color and come in irregular shapes.  Some people prefer to buy the solid form because its flavor is more concentrated. 

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