How Do You Say Asafoetida (English) Asafetida (American)? (a-sə-ˈfe-tə-də)
At the store I have heard some pretty interesting attempts at pronouncing this unusual spice. The spice, asafetida, is a gum resin produced from the roots of the asafetida plant. Throughout the Middle Ages it was used to ward off plague and other diseases. A piece was sometimes hung around the neck to help ward off these things. It was used in much the same way throughout the 20th Century in the South, on children, to ward of colds and the flu. It would be mixed into a foul-smelling paste and hung in a bag around the afflicted child’s neck.
Because of the plant’s strong sulfurous smell, it has been given some very derogatory names. It has been called, “devil’s dung”, “stinking gum”, and “devil’s herb”. Since this is a family friendly book, I can’t even translate the French name for you. Let’s just say it isn’t very nice. However, its odor and flavor become much milder and pleasant upon heating in oil or ghee (clarified butter), acquiring a taste and aroma reminiscent of sautéed onion and garlic. Consequently, there are whole segments of the population in the Middle East (those adhering to the Jain religion and others), who do not eat onions or garlic; use asafetida as a substitute for these flavors in their recipes. It is used in most vegetarian and lentil dishes to both add flavor and aroma and reduce flatulence. That’s a lot to ask of a little powder. For those of you that have an allergic reaction to onions and garlic, you might check with your doctor to see if asafetida is a good substitute for you.
Asafetida has been used as a deterrent for deer and other outside yard marauders for a long time. They don’t seem to like the spice. The only exception is the American wolf, which seems to be attracted to the aroma.
While most other countries in the Middle East use asafetida in its powdered form, in India the green parts of the plant are used as a vegetable.