Asafoetida is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) from the root of the Ferula. It is a perennial herb that is mainly cultivated in India. Asafoetida has a fetid smell, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks.
This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment, and in pickling. It typically works as a flavour enhancer and, used along with turmeric, is a standard component of Indian cuisine, particularly in lentil curries such as dal as well as in numerous vegetable dishes. It is sometimes used to harmonize sweet, sour, salty and spicy components in food. Asafoetida, onion, and garlic are considered tamas in nature; yogic texts forbid the use of these three substances in food, and place them alongside meat and alcohol in terms of producing tamas or lethargy. The spice is added to the food at the time of tempering. Sometimes dried and ground asafoetida (in very mild quantity) can be mixed with salt and eaten with raw salad.
In its pure form, its odour is so strong the pungent smell will contaminate other spices stored nearby if it is not stored in an airtight container: many commercial preparations of asafoetida utilize the resin ground up and mixed with a larger volume of wheat flour. The mixture is sold in sealed plastic containers. However, its odour and flavour become much milder and much less in pungency upon heating in oil or ghee. Sometimes, it is fried along with sautéed onion and garlic.
It is thought of digestive in terms of reducing flatulence. It is, however, one of the pungent vegetables generally avoided by Buddhist non-vegetarians.