Ingredient of the Month 18: Hing
|This is compound hing: the pure resin is somewhat darker reddish/orangey- brown|
|"Vandevi", a popular brand of compound hing, available in the UK. It contains both rice and wheat flours.|
Hing, also known as asafoetida, asant, giant fennel, jowani badian, stinking gum or even "Devil's dung", comes from root of the ferula plant, a perennial member of the carrot family. The living rhizome of this plant exudes a highly pungent resin- hence all the names. When cooked, however, it becomes much more pleasant; a lot like leeks. The plant is native to the mountains of Afghanistan, but is grown mainly in India. It found its way round the ancient world (the Romans knew it well as a medicine) but by Medieval times had been all but forgotten in Europe.
The pure dried resin is dark amber colour, and really hard to grate- you may end up smashing it with a hammer to get suitably small pieces. I knew a wholefood shop where you could buy the pure resin already powdered; the smell was so strong they had to double-wrap the bags of powder and put them in a sealed glass jar! Compound hing, pictured above, is usually about 30% asafoetida resin mixed with gum arabic plus wheat and/ or rice flour. Compound hing is what's used in all of the recipes we've posted here to date. If you have pure hing, then you will need to reduce the amounts accordingly. I do use compound hing raw, but in very small amounts; it's great in things like hummus, which would normally contain garlic.
According to Ayurveda, hing balances the vata and kapha (air and water-earth) doshas. The effect is to relieve flaulence and colic, and aid digestion (as hing aggravates the pitta- fire- dosha).
In Western medicine, hing has been found to have antiviral properties; as long ago as 1918, it was used to fight the Spanish 'flu pandemic. More recently, research from Taiwan has found that antiviral compounds in hing root can kill the swine flu (H1N1) virus.