What’s in a reputation? A lot, in relation to asafoetida or “satan’s dung”. The evil-smelling spice is a stink bomb that unquestionably lives as much as its moniker. Inhalation at 5 paces could make somebody with a blocked nostril stagger again. It needs to be saved away from different spices to stop it overwhelming them. Only a smidgen can treatment indigestion. But it’s a staple in Indian delicacies, including a sure delicate aroma, pungency and flavour. For the Jain neighborhood, whose faith forbids the usage of onion and garlic, “hing”, as it’s known as in India, is a lifesaver for the flavour it provides. Hing is India’s reply to Japan’s umami.
But, till now, nobody in India has grown the spice.
Most Indians, accustomed to utilizing hing daily, most likely assume it’s homegrown. Actually, India consumes 40% of the world’s hing and all the 1,500 yearly tonnes of it, at a value of $130m (£99m), is imported from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan the place it grows in chilly desert areas.
Final week, Dr Sanjay Kumar and different scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Analysis in Himachal Pradesh, within the shadow of the Himalayas, corrected the scenario by planting the primary hing saplings in Kwaring village.
“I felt a thrill. My spouse makes use of hing daily. Indian meals is incomplete with out it. Now, for the primary time, it’ll develop on our soil, I hope,” says Kumar.
He’s not stunned on the widespread false impression that hing grows in India as a result of, throughout the centuries that India was dominated by the Mughals and the British, Indian territory prolonged to Afghanistan and past. Hing would have come from these distant areas and, as such, was not considered an “imported” spice.
The thought of planting hing in India got here to Kumar and his group, who had typically travelled to the chilly desert areas of Lahoul and Spiti in northernmost Himachal Pradesh for his or her work in agriculture. The mountains and valleys within the area are common with vacationers for his or her wild, distant magnificence, however there’s little cultivation.
They discovered that farmers grew solely potatoes and peas, which didn’t generate sufficient revenue. Individuals have been leaving the villages to work within the cities, whereas huge tracts of barren wasteland lay empty.
“We talked about what new crops could possibly be launched to assist increase farmers’ livelihood and that was the eureka second – why not hing as a result of it grows in precisely the identical form of chilly desert areas of Afghanistan and Iran,” says Kumar.
The farmers will proceed to develop potatoes and peas. The hing saplings are a bonus, planted on 500 hectares (1,250 acres) of wasteland the place nothing else will develop. If the saplings survive, hing will lastly turn out to be what Indians already assume it’s: a local, regionally grown spice.
Its significance in Indian meals and conventional drugs can’t be overstated. Whereas the odor is an assault on the senses, as soon as it has been dissolved in sizzling oil and used as tempering, the stench vanishes.
The spice is a vital merchandise in Indian kitchens all through the subcontinent, used for all method of vegetable curries and a few meat dishes. Cooks wax lyrical about hing in the identical method as a sommelier speaking a couple of Château Lafite or a western chef extolling truffles – hing, they are saying, harmonises all the varied parts of a dish and provides depth and complexity.
Delhi-based author Jyoti Lavakare Pande is passionate concerning the spice. When her kids have been infants and had colic, she used to warmth some hing in oil and dab it on their stomach buttons with cotton wool. In her meals, it’s a should.
“It’s a fabulous spice that imports large flavour and what may be higher than a spice that’s filled with flavour and likewise has well being advantages, notably for indigestion or abdomen ache? I believe it’s probably the most underrated and unappreciated spice,” she says.
Its purported medicinal properties are quite a few, starting from offering aid for indigestion, flatulence, abdomen problems, bronchial asthma, extreme menstrual bleeding, hypertension and kidney stones. It’s used extensively in ayurvedic drugs.
Whereas Kumar is a hing fanatic within the kitchen, now his predominant concern is to make sure that the farmers perceive its peculiar nature. They’ve by no means grown something as unique and mysterious as hing. They’ve been skilled to grasp that when snow falls, it slips beneath the floor into hibernation. When the snow melts, it reappears. It’s only seen above the bottom for one or two months of the yr.
“My concern is that when farmers don’t see it, they are going to fear and begin rootling to test it’s OK. In the event that they disturb it, they are going to injury the standard. We’ve got instructed them to let it’s. When the snow melts, it’ll pop up by itself,” he says.