Cling to Hing: The secret weapon spice of Indian Cuisine

'Hing', popularly known as 'asafoetida' was introduced in the Indian subcontinent by the Mughals of Middle East in the 16th century.

Asafoetida, popularly known as Hing. Image source:
  • ‘Hing’ or ‘asafoetida’ forms a basic component of Indian spices
  • ‘Hing’ was brought to India by the Mughals of the Middle East in the 16th century
  • ‘Hing’ is used in traditional Indian medicines to minimize, control and cure kidney stones, bronchitis digestive problems, and ulcers

Indian spices have always attracted buyers and admirers from across continents over the years. Many would consider the mixture of different civilizations and cultures as the reason behind the country’s exquisite cuisine, which actually stands true for the special condiments of spices enriching the ingredients of Indian food.

As one who is introduced to Indian cuisine for the first time, it would be easy to guess that the dishes contain about four to six different spices inadequately measured quantities. These spices help create aroma and taste of the food which normally isn’t the case with other styles of cuisines. Where it’ll be natural to guess the presence of cumin, coriander and turmeric in an Indian kitchen, but it will be extremely surprising to discover ‘hing’ as an important ingredient.

An Indian spices market Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
An Indian spices market. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Known popularly as “asafoetida” in the English language, ‘hing’ is made from the resin of huge fennel plants in Afghanistan and Iran. Where Europeans usually refer to it as the “devil’s dung” because of its strong smell of sulfur and onions, it forms a basic component of Indian spices, said an NPR article.

In ‘The Book of Spices’, John O’Connell attributes the Mughals of Middle East as those who brought the ‘hing’ to India in the 16th century. Since then, ‘hing’ is preserved and used in varieties of Indian dishes. Due to its pungent odour, it is often stored in airtight containers.

A newbie would find it difficult to believe in the power of ‘hing’ as a basic Indian spice, but a little amount of experimentation would help to create a giant belief in its strength to turn tastes from good to better.

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“For a Western palette, hing can be shocking,” says Kate O’Donell in her book ‘The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook.’ It is further explained how the pungent smell of the spice mellows to a milder leek-and-garlic flavour when cooked in a balancing manner.

The Indian 'asafoetida' or 'hing' as powder forms a special part of Indian spices Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Indian ‘asafoetida’ or ‘hing’ as powder forms a special part of Indian spices
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vikram Sunderam, a James Beard Award winner and chef at the Washington, D.C., Indian restaurants says that he “adds hing to lentil or broccoli dishes.” But his usage of the spice is done efficiently, depending on what he is cooking.

“Hing is a very interesting spice, but it has to be used in the right quantity,” he warns. “Even a little bit too much overpowers the whole dish, makes it just taste bitter.”

According to the NPR report, a huge number of Indians use hing as a substitute for onions and garlic. Gary Takeoka, a food chemist with the U.S Department of Agriculture, after studying the volatile compounds in hing feels, “A major proportion of hing’s volatiles are sulfur compounds.”He further adds, “Some of these are similar to the ones found in onions and garlic.”

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Other than cooking, hing in India also finds a place in traditional medicines. It is believed that the spice is powerful enough to minimize, control and cure kidney stones, bronchitis, whooping cough, digestive problems, and ulcers. The same is used for medicinal purposes in Afghanistan and Egypt.

While hing forms a definite material in Indian kitchens, it is also markedly present in Middle Eastern dishes. However, experts in international food find it hard to believe how hing hasn’t reached the international stage in this age of global fusion of cuisine styles.

It might trigger protests from the elder members in the family if a Slovak were to add chilli or cumin to their food in place of the traditional salt and pepper, but a tiny dash of hing is worth experimenting with!

-This article is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.


  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Along with distinctive taste in the food, hing also cure stomach aches and has many other medicinal properties

  • Aparna Gupta

    Asafoetida provide us many benefits. It is also a well known antioxidant and possess anti-carcinogenic properties.

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Spices not only add taste to food but also add various nutritional values to it and prevent many diseases. Hing is helpful in digestion and also cures many respiratory diseases.