|How the asafoetida is packaged|
Have we found a Roman flavor more detestable than Garum?! I think we have a contender. Can you imagine a spice that smells so strongly that it starts taking over the over foods stored around it!? I think I've found it. Somebody out there must agree with my revulsion to this spice, or it probably wouldn't be called "Devil's Dung."
So the story behind this vile spice is that originally, in Ancient cooking, the Romans had a spice called Silphium, also known as lasarpicium. This herb became terribly popular, not only for cooking, but for medicinal purposes as well. It was imported only from a small region in Cyrenaica, which is now modern Libya. This spice was so valuable that the Roman state treasury hoarded it along with their gold and silver. Pliny explains what happened to it:
|Pliny the Younger|
"For many years now it has not been seen in Libya: the agents who lease grazing land, scenting higher profits, have allowed sheep to overgraze the silphium lands. The single stem found within living memory was sent to the Emperor Nero. If an animal should ever come upon a promising shoot, the sign will be that a sheep after eating it rapidly goes to sleep, whereas a goat sneezes rather loudly. For a long time now, however, the only silphium brought to us in Rome has been that originating in Iran and Armenia, which is plentiful enough, but not nearly as good as Cyrenaic."
|Cerenaic coin with silphium|
The Romans not only used this spice to flavor vegetables, but despite its pungent aroma, asafoetida was known to alleviate stomach ailments, cold symptoms, anxiety issues, chronic fatigue, yeast infections, and painful gas and flatulence. Romans believed that regular dose of asafoetida before and during early pregnancy can help lessen the risk of miscarriage. I know that from the smell of it, it could probably lessen the chances of pregnancy in the first place, as nobody would want to go near you.
As a source of pungent flavor, asofoetida is still used widely today in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, the pungency of the herbal aroma is far more persistent than that of the commonly used garlic, and Worcestershire sauce contains asafoetida as one of its main ingredients.
In the name of history, we will try out this spice, and get to the bottom of its flavors, and unlock the mysteries contained therein. I will be looking for a recipe that exhibits this wildly awful smelling spice, and will try it out. Of course, you will read all about it here, in Julius and Julia.