[Hing (India); Perungayam (Tamil); Ferula assafoetida]
This giant fennel, native to Iran and Afghanistan, provides a resin that is widely used in Indian cuisine and in ayurvedic medicine. This resin is sold in three forms: resin droplets or nuggets, pure powdered asafoetida, and most commonly "hing powder", asafoetida cut to 30% with rice flour and gum arabic. The photo is of pure powdered asafoetida.
Asafoetida was first reported to Europe by Alexander the Great who declared it inferior to Silphium (Roman Laser) from North Africa, particularly due to the offensive sulfurous smell - very like that of SAE 90 weight Hypoid Gear Oil. Unfortunately, due to poor resource management Laser became extinct during the Roman Empire leaving them to use asafoetida or do without (unthinkable).
Today asafoetida is widely used in the cuisines of India, particularly by those sects and castes to whom onions, garlic and all their relatives are forbidden by religious decree. It does not taste the same but lends a similar sophistication of flavor to dishes it is used in (onions are also high in sulphur).
More on Fennels.
Buying and Storing: Purchased from Indian markets it is best to buy resin beads or nuggets if you can find them (rare in the US). Ayurvedic (pharmaceutical) grade pure powder is available from on-line sources and is the best product to buy.
Hing powder is common in Indian markets. It is cut with rice flour and gum arabic and is at best 30% asafoetida. This should be stirred into temperings at the last moment so the rice flour doesn't burn.
Because of the strong sulfurous odor it is essential that asafoetida be stored in a tightly sealed impervious container, preferably glass.
Cooking: This is powerful stuff to be used with great restraint. A recipe to serve four can use about 1/16 teaspoon. Recipes calling for more than 1/8 teaspoon presume the cut down hing powder rather than pure asafoetida.
When cooking, first bring oil up hot but not to smoking. Take the pan off the flame and stir in the asafoetida for just a few seconds until the foaming starts to subside, then immediately stir in other ingredients. This quick roasting in oil largely removes the objectionable odor.
When using "Hing Powder" cut with rice flour and gum, use about three times as much as for pure asafoetida. Some say this powder doesn't need the frying step, but I find it still provides better results, but must not be so hot and long as the rice flour burns.