Asafoetida Substitutes: The Quest for the Perfect Replacement
Asafoetida, also known as hing, is a little-known spice that has been used in Indian cooking for centuries.
It is a gum resin that is extracted from the roots of the Ferula plant – Ferula assafoetida which is part of the fennel and carrot family.
Its smell is strong, although I don’t find it horrible, I’m guessing some do based on an alternative name for it – devil’s dung!
Asafoetida is a spice used extensively in Indian cooking. I wanted to give some perspective from someone who has experience using it as an Indian cook.
I’ve covered a lot of substitutes for commonly used ingredients in Indian cooking. In those situations I could find a good option for a quick substitute in a fix: Tamarind Paste Substitute, Gram Flour Substitute, Ghee Substitute, Paneer Alternative and Kashmiri Chili Powder Substitute.
An alternative to saffron was an exception, as there isn’t really a good stand-in. I think asafoetida falls under the same category.
Asafoetida is used for two purposes in Indian cooking:
Used as a digestive aid in Indian dishes, as it is believed to aid in digestion in herbal medicine.
From Netmeds: Hing “provides relief from stomach problems like gastritis, bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence and promotes overall digestive health.”
Due to its usage as a digestion aid, it is especially commonly used in dishes with beans or lentils such as Dal Fry.
2. Add umami, a punch of flavor
Used as a flavor enhancer along with other Indian spices
It is used to add flavor primarily in tadka, a technique where spices are added to hot oil and then poured over the dish. This is the best way to truly experience the spice.
But, there are a few instances where it is added to a dish in powdered form.
When added to hot oil, asafoetida transforms and the smell is reminiscent of alliums such as garlic and onion BUT the taste is not the same. It adds a depth of flavor and complexity that it can really only add.
It is usually added after cumin seeds and/or mustard seeds in a tadka.
Added as a dry powder, it gives a lift to foods and a deeper taste reminiscent of alliums, but not overwhelming.
Through my research, there seems to be a misconception that asafoetida is not used in dishes that use garlic. That’s not the case.
It’s commonly used in recipes with beans and across Gujarati cuisine even in recipes that have garlic and or onions. Because asafoetida adds something to the dish that they don’t.
Onion and Garlic As Substitutes
I’m not sure where the idea for garlic and onions as a substitute for asafetida started, but based on some research, it is suggested that Jains and other folks who don’t eat garlic and onion use it to add a sulfurous pungency to dishes.
So while it can be used to add more depth of flavor especially if you are skipping garlic and onion, it’s just not true that it can be considered a one-for-one substitute.
Especially in instances where asafoetida is used as part of tadka or tempering of oil.
Garlic and or onions are not truly great substitutes. Can they work? I guess, but I would just skip hing if I don’t have it.
If there are alliums in the dish, adding a sprinkle of garlic and onion powder will not make up for the lack of asafoetida.
If you cook Indian food often keep an eye out for it, as no substitute compares to the real thing.
Asafoetida Powder Vs. Solid Form
You can find the spice in either solid forms (chunks as pictured below) or in powder form. The chunks of the plant resin you need to grind into a fine powder.
In my family, we like to get the chunks to ensure we are using pure asafetida without preservatives. It also tends to have a fresher taste.
But, it is sold primarily in powdered form in a small bottle. This yellow powder is readily available in Indian grocery stores.
However, sometimes these ready-made powders are blended with a combination of asafetida and rice flour or asafetida and whole wheat flour to enhance shelf life.
So, asafoetida is not always gluten-free. Be mindful of that when looking for gluten-free Indian food, especially in restaurants.
Asafoetida powder can be stored in an airtight container and can last for years.
In Hindi, hing powder is another name for asafoetida powder and is used interchangeably. It is also readily available in Indian grocery stores and I’m sure someone can easily point you to it at the store!
It can also be found online.
Garlic Powder and Onion Powder
Garlic powder and onion powder can be added to a dish to provide depth of flavor in instances where you don’t already have garlic or onion in your dish.
They both have a strong flavor and can be used in small quantities.
However, they do not have the same digestive properties as asafoetida and don’t provide the same “oomph” to the dish.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, adding garlic and onion powder as a substitute in tadka (where 90% of Indian recipes use asafoetida) will not work and will result in a burnt taste.
Garlic Chives and Green Onions
Garlic chives and green onions are members of the allium family and have a strong flavor that is similar to garlic.
They can be used in small amounts to add flavor to Indian dishes. I wouldn’t consider it an alternative to asafetida – just another variation to the dish for flavor.
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Fresh garlic cloves are a decent substitute for asafoetida. They can be sauteed in oil to release their garlic flavor and then added to Indian dishes.
If your dish doesn’t already include garlic, you can add a minced clove to your tadka. It won’t be the same as asafetida but can bring some nuance of flavor to your dish.
Garlic-infused oil is made by sauteing garlic cloves in oil until the oil is infused with the garlic flavor.
This oil can be used in small amounts to add flavor to Indian dishes.
Conclusion: No Perfect Asafoetida Substitute
In conclusion, there is no perfect substitute for asafoetida. Each substitute has its own unique flavor and properties.
Fresh garlic cloves sauteed in oil can add a little depth of flavor to your dish in the absence of asafoetida.
I would personally just skip it if I didn’t have it on hand.
Other Names For Asafetida
- Hing (Hindi)
- Perungayam (Tamil)
- Devil’s dung
- Stinking gum
- Food of the gods
- Ferula assa-foetida
- Anguzeh (Persian)
- Haltheet (Arabic)
- Giant fennel
- Jowani badian (Pashto)
- Ting (Burmese)
- Awei (Manipuri)
- Ingu (Kannada)
- Ingua (Portuguese)
- Narthex asafoetida
- Asant (German)
- Cakun (Malayalam)
- Férule persique (French)
- Heeng (Punjabi)
- Kayam (Malay)
So, what is a substitute for asafoetida?
There are no perfect substitutes for asafoetida. It adds an umami and complexity of flavor that can’t be easily replicated. If you have alliums present in your dish, adding extra garlic and onion powder won’t make much of a difference. If you’d like you can add a clove of minced garlic to hot oil to provide some complexity. I would just skip hing if I didn’t have it.
Note, asafoetida is often used in tadka (added to hot oil) where it transforms. Don’t put garlic powder or onion powder in hot oil, it’ll burn! Just skip it.