In the Blog World:
Asafoetida History in ISKCON

by Malati dasi, Reposted from Vaisnava Blog Feeds

Posted February 20, 2010

Srila Prabhupada never suggested that we not use asafoetida/hing. In fact he shared with us a number of very nice recipes that included it. Here is a little "Hing History:"

Hing, asafoetida, first surfaced in the budding world of ISKCON, circa early 1967, introduced by Asha, wife of the Consul General of India in San Francisco and friend to the ragtag little group of ex-hippies who now considered ourselves devotees. She would invite the young women to her apartment for lunch, teaching us various dishes and cooking techniques as well. She showed us a little glump of resin, carefully chipping off a piece and pounding it with her stone mortar and pestle until it became a fine powder, which she added to the chaunk at the the last moment. We loved it.

I personally asked Srila Prabhupada if it was all right for us to use hing, and he agreed that it was all right. As his sometime cook, I definitely used hing in many preparations for him.

Asha also donated a harmonium to our little storefront mandir, another first for San Francisco at least. She kindly gave us real saris, setting us apart from the standard bedsheet look that was otherwise prevalent. She was kindhearted and an appreciated friend who appreciated our faulty attempts without criticism.

The ubiquitous asafoetida, sometimes spelked asafetida, finds itself in a great number of Kurma prabhu’s recipes. What on earth is it? Read on…

The aromatic resin from the root of the giant fennel, Ferula asafoetida. Asafoetida, also known as hing, is extracted from the stems of these giant perennial plants that grow wild in Central Asia, especially Northern Iran and Afghanistan.

In the spring, when the plant is about to bloom, the stems and roots are cut. Milky resin exudes from the cut surface and is scraped off. The gummy resin is sun-dried into a solid mass that is then sold in solid, wax-like pieces. Most raw asafoetida is sent to India for further processing and sale, mostly in the convenient powdered form.

Asafoetida has been held in great esteem among indigenous medicines from the earliest times in India. It is highly reputed as a drug to expel wind from the stomach and to counteract spasmodic disorders. Asafoetida is also a digestive agent and is used, among other things, for alleviating toothache and as an antidote for opium.

In the days of Moghul aristocracy in India, the court singers of Agra and Delhi would wake before dawn and eat a spoonful of asafoetida with butter to enhance their singing voice before practicing on the banks of the Yamuna river.

Asafoetida is also excellent for settling flatulence and is prescribed by Indian herbalists for respiratory problems.

Due to the presence of sulphur compounds, raw asafoetida has a distinctive pungent aroma. To cook with asafoetida, small quantities of the powdered form are sauteed in a little slightly hot oil or ghee, before adding to a variety of savoury dishes, adding a delicious flavour reminiscent of a mixture of shallots and garlic.

Kurma always uses the mild yellow asafoetida powder, not the grey variety. All Kurma’s recipes calling for asafoetida were tested using this yellow variety. If using other types, reduce the quantity to between a quarter and a half of the suggested amount. Asafoetida is available at Indian grocers and specialty stores.