METRO PLUS

The giant fennel

ASAFOETIDA MUST be the only food with sobriquets as opposite as `Food of the Gods' and `Devil's Dung'.

Sambhar, curry powder and pickles get their acrid tang from small quantities of asafoetida-gum resin from the `Stinking gum' Ferula genus of the parsley family.

Asafoetida finds mention in ancient Sanskrit texts dating back to the 3rd century BC, and in the Mahabharata. In India, asafoetida is an essential condiment for those who shun similarly acrid garlic and onion on religious grounds.

Smell

Asafoetida's overwhelming sulphurous smell comes from ferula acid and sulphur-rich oils. Powdered asafoetida is less offensive than the resin because it has less of the volatile oils.

A pea-sized piece of asafoetida is enough to flavour a large pot of sambhar. The resin dissolves easily in hot oil; adding the oil drop by drop is an easy way of measuring how much you are adding to food.

Powdered asafoetida, unlike the pure resin, is likely to be adulterated with red clay, sand, gypsum and even powdered stones.

Uses

Apart from its acrid taste, asafoetida's alleged anti-flatulent action may explain its use in lentil dishes such as sambhar and in curries.

Asafoetida is contraindicated in pregnant and lactating woman, infants and in those who suffer from hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Past and discredited uses for asafoetida are as an aphrodisiac, infant colic remedy, de-worming agent and as a cure for palpitations.

Asafoetida is an ingredient in herbal medicines for nervousness, flatulence and bronchitis. Its stimulant effect on the guts makes it a common additive in laxatives. There isn't enough evidence to justify its use for these conditions.

Asafoetida interacts with and affects the action of allopathic blood thinning medicines such as warfarin, aspirin, clopidogrel, and enoxaparin. Consult your doctor first if you intend to take asafoetida while on these drugs.

RAJIV M.

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