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.

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Asafoetida, popularly known as Hing. Image source: herbfinder.tattvasherbs.com
  • ‘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.

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Showing Support to The Chanderi weavers Amid Lockdown

In tough times, it is difficult for weavers to sell their products, showcasing their work online can be immensely helpful

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Chanderi weavers
Lending support to Chanderi weavers in these times becomes immensely important. IANS

In tough times, it is difficult for weavers to sell their products and sustain their craft during these difficult times. Showcasing their work online can be immensely helpful. One needs understand that the lockdown has had a severe impact on artisans as it has severely affected their sales and production.

“With artisans and weavers having been hit badly because of the lockdown, Weaverstory a specialised online marketplace, has decided to give reasonable prices, so that customers can buy different products from across India and abroad too. This is helping the weavers sell their products to sustain during these difficult times. Every artisan or weaver is given a separate space to exhibit their products and this is the first time they are trying something like this,” said Nishant Malhotra co-founder of Weaverstory.

WeaverStory launched an “Authentic Chanderi Collection” which helps artisans to become self-reliant. Chanderi, from central India is one of the best-known handloom clusters, particularly famous for its sarees, made with a mix of silk and cotton.

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India is one of the best-known handloom clusters, particularly famous for its sarees, made with a mix of silk and cotton. Pixabay

“Most of them sustain themselves only by selling their products and what is really important is to sell their products on time. Hence, this is the only way to sell whatever they have produced in the past two months. We ensure that the money goes to the artisan’s account within three working days and provide financial support to them during the lockdown,” Malhotra added.

The chanderi saree is a handwoven variety from the traditional weavers of Madhya Pradesh. Woven predominantly in cotton and silk yarn, the material has a subtle sheer surface. The assortment has in store the variety of sarees, dupattas, suits in vibrant colours, royal blues, and red and mustards.

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There have been changes in the methodologies, equipment and even the compositions of yarns over the years, but there is a heritage attached with the skill associated with high quality weaving and products. The weavers from this area a have even received appreciation and royal patronage. WeaverStory has been focussing predominantly on the weaves, reviving designs from museums and traditional forms, and working with weavers themselves. (IANS)

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Here’s how we Overlook the Sufferings of Migrant Workers in India

The death toll of migrant workers is increasing everyday

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India, migrant workers
Migrant Workers in India are stranded thousands of miles away from their families and homes. WIkimedia Commons

By Muskan Bhatnagar

India is going through a situation of crisis from all aspects. From the virus to national border tension, from financial losses to rising death tolls. Not only India, but the whole world is in a state of emergency. The crisis is so huge that we tend to forget the problems on the grass-root level. While the world is busy fighting Coronavirus, protesting against injustice, grieving the deaths of celebrities, let’s take a look at the migrant workers in India who’ve been battling the pandemic in an altogether different way.

It has been over six months since the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus. The first case in India was confirmed on 30 January. Since then, the nation has seen a constant rise in the number of cases as well as death tolls. The imposition of lockdown had put the privileged in their homes while the migrant workers had much more to worry about. No money, no savings, no shelter, and no resources to get back to their homes.

Even if we try our best, we’ll still fail to understand or feel the pain and suffering they have been put through. There are thousands of such workers across the nation who were forced to walk hundreds of miles to their native place with their families and kids, as there was no transportation available due to the lockdown which was imposed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Their story isn’t over yet. A recent report suggests that 198 migrant workers were killed during 1,461 accidents which took place over the course of the nationwide lockdown – from March 25 to May 31. The accidents killed at least 750 people, including 198 migrant workers. Migrant workers who were putting all their efforts to go back home comprise 26.4% of the overall deaths during the lockdown caused due to road accidents.

Not just road accidents, but migrant workers have also lost their lives due to starvation and heat sickness. Image walking thousands of miles the hot weather conditions of the summer season, with mercury shooting to 45 degrees Celsius, carrying all your belongings amid an ongoing global pandemic. What worse could you happen to them?

migrant workers
Migrant workers across India have lost their lives due to various causes. Pixabay

Last month a train in Maharashtra ran over 16 migrant workers who were sleeping on the tracks. The workers were walking to Bhusawal from Jalna to board a “Shramik Special” train to return to Madhya Pradesh amid lockdown. 14 of the 20 died on the spot and 2 lost their lives in hospital. The accident took place when they decided to take rest and sleep on the railway lines.

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If you start reading and researching more about the stories of migrant workers in India, you will come across incidents that will break your heart and move you to tears. Women, children, joint families, elderly, everyone has to suffer and starve on the roads during this global emergency.

Rather than discussing and grieving the losses in India, the attention is put to other worldwide issues, easily overlooking the problems of our people. Why do we mourn the loss of a celebrity so much? A simple answer will be because they were legends in their field. That’s right. But we feel devasted because they die, and not because they were legends. It is a matter of loss of life. Similarly, when such a huge amount of people die on the streets, we tend to overlook. In both cases, someone dies.

The migrant workers in India are losing their lives every day, and it’s probably just a news piece for us all.

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Yoga: A Sacred Gift, with Love from Hinduism and India to the World

Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism for centuries, it is a gift from India to the world

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Yoga
Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism in India. Pixabay

BY Varuni Trivedi

Lord Krishna said to Arjun in the Geeta, “Restless senses, O Arjuna, forcibly carry away the mind of even a wise person striving for perfection.” Patanjali’s description of the practice of yoga after the yamas and niyamas, directs towards the pratyahara, meaning turning inward of the senses. In simple terms when one is unable to restrain the senses, they become powerless to direct their minds. No matter how well-read or wise they sound while talking, it carries little importance without the practice discipline. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ (“to yoke”) which is more literally translated as “union of the individual’s Atma or soul with Paramatma or god (the universal soul). This is often understood as a union with the divine power by the integration of body, mind, and spirit. Thus, Yoga is what imparts an internal discipline, not only to the body but also to the mind and spirit. 

 

History of the art of Yoga

Bhagavad Gita, the holy scripture of Hindus also states the importance of yoga, “Yoga is the journey of the self, to the self, through the self” it beautifully quotes. The history of Yoga is accurately is difficult to trace its has many places of obscurity and uncertainty. In those ages, texts and teaching were passed down orally. Not only was the oral transmission of sacred texts is a common occurrence but the secretive nature of its teachings was also a recurring phenomenon. Furthermore, earlier writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or even lost making it difficult to trace the exact time of its inception. However, experts claim that the development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, some researchers even think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. 

The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred known to mankind, the Rig Veda. These Vedas are sacred Hindu texts and were a collection of songs, mantras, and rituals to be used by Brahmans and Vedic priests. Later on, Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishi munis who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, which contains 200 scriptures. However, to date, the most renowned Yogic scriptures where Yoga and its benefits are mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita which was composed in around 500 B.C.E. 

Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice, and development or the pre-classic, classical, post-classical, and the modern period. Yoga as a means of exercise for the body and mind is a deeply rooted concept of Hinduism in India for centuries.  Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are considered the four main yogas, but with time and development now there are many other types. 

Yoga and meditation
Yoga is more of a spiritual act and it remains a vibrant living tradition. Pixabay

 

Yoga in the modern period

Yoga is more of a spiritual act and it remains a vibrant living tradition. It is seen all across the world as a means to enlightenment for the mind and soul. In the 1800s and 1900s, yogic gurus traveled to the West, gaining attention, and followers and making Yoga more and more famous. Essentially this spread can be traced back to, 1893 when in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda left the attendees spellbound with his speech. His lectures on yoga and wellbeing were a great catalyst in spreading the word about this art. Late, in the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India as the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis became popular.

Krishnamacharya was the first to open a Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924. Sometime later in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy river Ganges, he aroused three students that continued his legacy and increased the popularity of Hatha Yoga. They were B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda himself wrote over 200 books on yoga and established nine ashrams and many yoga centers across the world, making yoga popular worldwide. In the western world, the importance of yoga and its popularity soared when Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. 

Yoga is popular in many parts of the world. Especially in the United States, yoga has become associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga, which have gained immense popularity as fitness exercises. Even though Yoga is central to Hinduism, other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, have also been greatly influenced by it throughout the world. Some of the most important Hindu texts which have laid the ground for yoga worldwide include the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

Yoga
The practice of Yoga asanas and meditation provides natural support to the immune system. Pixabay

Yoga and Modi

PM Modi has been a patron of yoga, practicing and propagating the idea of yoga and its importance worldwide. Recently at a yoga event called “Yoga for Peace” in Argentina’s capital Mr. Modi addressed the participants saying that the practice of Yoga connects everyone to happiness. The Prime Minister further said that if the mind is at peace, there would be peace in family, society, country, and the world as well. He went on to say that “Yoga is India’s gift to the world for health, wellness, and peace.” Yoga can be credited to connects us with wellness and happiness and bring peace of mind to many across the globe.  PM Modi further said that Yoga is bridging the vast distance between India and Argentina. It is connecting people worldwide and binding them in a positive light. PM Modi has on other occasions termed yoga as the “unifying force of the world”

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Yoga In the Times of Pandemic

The multiple benefits that the practice of yoga has on a person’s wellbeing are accepted all across the world. In these tough times when people are locked inside their houses as anxiety and worklessness eat them up, Yoga can be a great support. It would not only help to bring the mind at peace but also help with the body at such times when physical activity is low. Yoga could help deal with anxiety and stress which commonly surround people in a lockdown. In fact, recent studies have said that Yoga even helps in quitting smoking and other tobacco products. This can be a great time for people to quit their bad habits and turn to a path of spirituality. Yoga in every sense of the world is excellent support in these stressful times or literally every time. It brings harmony and peace not only to the mind but also to the body.