Thursday, February 21, 2008
Spices of India
If you visit tourist places in Goa and Kerala, you can visit spice gardens.
Some plantation owners have improvised their spice gardens into tourist attractions.
You can see a variety of plants where different spices come from.
The guide will answer your questions and clarify your doubts.
Your host will serve you authentic local meals in virgin surroundings and arrange a traditional dance.
Indians use a lot of spices in their daily food.
But most do not know where the spices come from.
While writing this blog, I had a visitor.
She asked me what I was doing.
I told her I was working on an article on ‘Hing’.
She said it was used for cooking and how I could write an article on cooking.
I asked her what was Hing.
She said it was a stone.
I told her I was writing the article for misinformed persons like her.
Actually, someone suggested that I should write about the spices in my blog.
So here we go.
This is the first of a series…..on Hing or Asafoetida.
Origin of the Name
The English and scientific name for Hing is Asafoetida.
This name is derived from the Persian ‘aza’ (for resin), and the Latin ‘foetidus’ (for stinking).
Its pungent odour has earned it a lot of bad names.
It has been equated with Devil’s Dung or Shit.
It is called Teufelsdreck (literally meaning Devil’s Dung) in German.
In French, it is Merde du Diable (Devil’s Shit).
In Swedish, it is Dyvelsträck,
In Dutch, Duivelsdrek.
In Afrikaans, Duiwelsdrek.
In Finnish, Pirunpaska or Pirunpihka.
In Turkish, it is known as Şeytantersi, Şeytan bökösu or Şeytanotu (the Devil's Herb).
In North India, it is called Hing or Heeng.
The following list gives its name in different languages of India:
Kashmiri: Yang, Sap
Sanskrit: Badhika, Agudagandhu
Telugu: Inguva, Ingumo Urdu: Hing
What is Hing
Asafoetida is a species of Ferula plant which is native to Iran.
Hing is the resin like gum which comes from the dried sap extracted from the lower stem and roots of the plant.
The resin is grayish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. The resin is difficult to grate.
It is traditionally ground between stones or in mechanical grinders.
It is rarely used in its pure form.
What is generally used is compounded or 'bandhani' asafetida - a powder containing 30% asafetida resin, rice flour (or some other form of starch) and gum arabic.
Cultivation and Harvest
The plant is grown in Iran (the country of its origin), Afghanistan and in Kashmir in India.
It is a herbaceous perennial plant of the carrot family and grows to a height of 3.6 metres.
The plant has stout, hollow, somewhat succulent stems, 5 - 8 cms. in diameter at the base of the plant.
The leaves are 30 - 40 cms. long, tripinnate or even more finely divided, with a stout basal sheath clasping the stem.
The flowers are yellow, produced in large compound umbels.
The resin can be extracted after the plant is about four years old.
The older the plant, the more resin it produces.
The time to start harvesting the resin from the succulent stem and the root is just before flowering, in the months of March / April.
An incision is made in the upper part of the root / lower part of the stem and the exuding gum / latex is collected.
Several incisions can be made in the root / stem till there is no more oozing of gum.
This process can continue up to three months.
A single plant can yield up to 1 kilogram of resin.
Hing helps digestion and reduces flatulence.
A pinch of Hing gulped down with buttermilk or lukewarm water gives immediate relief from gas.
It is therefore added in dals and vegetables to redce flatulence.
Taken in excess, it can cause loose motions.
It helps in asthma and bronchitis.
A concoction of Hing in alcohol applied to a child’s neck can cure colds.
The same concoction applied on a child’s stomach is believed to help digestion.
Hing taken with butter milk enhances and improves the voice.
It is also a strong preservative.
The odor of Hing is so strong that it must be stored in airtight containers, otherwise its aroma will penetrate and contaminate the aroma of all other spices stored nearby.
Its odour and flavor become much milder and more pleasant on heating in oil or ghee and acquire those of sautéed onion and garlic.
For this reason, vegetarian Hindus and Jains, who do not eat onions and garlic use Hing.
Hing is added to lentil (dal) and vegetable preparations.
It is also used in food as a condiment and in pickles, relishes/chutneys and papads.
I am sure Hing must be an integral part of your food.
This article will tell you more about this spice.
Gone are the days when Kabuliwalas used to bring Hing from Afganisthan and other places.
Now Indian manufacturers import the resin, make it into the compounded form also known as ‘bandhani hing’ and export it.
The wonderful thing about Hing is that a pinch is sufficient for a food preparation for four persons.