Asafoetida, popularly known as “HING” in India, is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the living underground rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula.
The species are distributed from the Mediterranean region to Central Asia. In India it is grown in Kashmir and in some parts of Punjab. The major supply of asafoetida to India is from Afghanistan and Iran.There are two main varieties of asafoetida i.e. Hing Kabuli Sufaid (Milky white asafoetida) and Hing Lal (Red asafoetida). Asafoetida is acrid and bitter in taste and emits a strong disagreeable pungent odour due to the presence of sulphur compounds therein which adds flavour to the food.The white or pale variety is water soluble, whereas the dark or black variety is oil soluble.Since pure asafoetida is not preferred due to its strong flavour, it is diluted using various edible ingredients and sold as compounded asafoetida mostly in bricket form. It is also available in free flowing (Powder form) or in tablet forms.
|Botanical name||Family name||Commercial part|
|Ferula asafoetida||Apiaceae||Oleogum resin extracted from rhizome and thickened root|
Asafoetida : The King of Spices
It may be perceived as malodorous but only until it is added to your food. And its health properties far outnumber its pungent flavour. Add a pinch of it to your meals, it will do you much good.
Inguva in Telegu, Perungaayam in Tamil, Kaayam in Malayalam and Badhika in Sanskrit, asafoetida is indispensable in any self-respecting Indian kitchen. Popularly known as hing in India, asafoetida gets its name from Persian aza for ‘resin’ and Latin foetidus for ‘stinking.’ Pronounced as ‘asa-fur-tee-da,’ it is a resin-like gum, which is greyish white when fresh but darkens with age (also, when dried) to yellow, red and, eventually, brown. With greenish-yellow flowers produced in large compound umbels, it comes from the sap of the stem and the pulpy roots of the Ferula species. It is sold in blocks or pieces and, morefrequently, as a fine yellow powder, crystalline or granulated.
The earliest mention of asafoetida in the historical record dates from the eighth century BC, when the plant was listed in an inventory of the gardens of Babylonian King Marduk-apla-iddina II. Not long after that, in Nineveh (near modern Mosul, Iraq), asafoetida was included in a catalogue of medicinal plants in the library of King Ashurbanipal.
From that beginning, the story of asafoetida reaches from ancient India and Persia to Rome, the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, medieval Europe, India’s Mughal Empire and modern Afghanistan and Iran. Its story is also closely entwined with that of its mysterious lost cousin, silphium.
The word asafoetida is a linguistic meeting of East and West: aza means “resin” or “mastic” in Persian and foetida means “stinking” in Latin. While “stinking resin” seems adequately descriptive, other languages use colorful adaptations of the notion of “devil’s dung” for the spice: şeytan tersi in Turkish; Teufelsdreck in German; dyvelsträck in Swedish; merde du diable in French and esterco-do-diabo in Portuguese. In Afghanistan (where asafoetida grows widely today) and in India (its biggest modern consumer), its name is far simpler: hing, which derives from the Sanskrit han, meaning “kill”—likely another reference to its deadly uncooked smell.
Asafoetida is the exudate—technically a mixture of gum and resin—collected from the root of Ferula assafoetida, a relative of the carrot and fennel plants. Today, the plant grows only from eastern Iran to western Afghanistan and in parts of Kashmir, and it has never been successfully cultivated. Generally, a plant must be at least four years old before it will yield, and is tapped in the spring. On finding a suitable plant, a harvester digs away the soil and makes an incision in the top of the thick, carrot-like root, which then exudes, for up to three months, as much as a kilogram (35 oz) of milky resin. The exudate hardens on exposure to air and gradually turns brown. Chemically, the gum resin’s signature pungency is the scent of 2-butyl 1-propenyl disulfide and other disulfides, which break down when subjected to the heat of cooking. Its scent also contains the more pleasant diallyl sulfide, familiar from onions and garlic, which remains intact in cooking, giving asafoetida its distinct, leek-like flavor.
Often referred to as ‘devil’s dung,’ asafoetida, when raw, has an overwhelming, pungent odour, like that of rotting onions or sulphur. Used especially as a digestive aid in food, as a condiment and in pickles, it is best stored in airtight containers to avoid affecting other spices kept nearby. However, its aroma becomes a lot milder and sufficiently pleasant when heated in oil or ghee. In cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks.
Grown in Kashmir and in some parts of Punjab, asafoetida is largely imported in India from Iran and Afghanistan. It is available in three forms, i.e., tears, mass and paste. Tears, the purest form of resin, is rounded or flattened, is greyish or dull yellow in colour. Mass asafoetida is the common commercial form, uniform in mass. The paste form contains extraneous matter.
In India, asafoetida is largely employed to add a strong onion-garlic flavour to vegetarian dishes and used especially by Brahmins and Jains who do not eat onions or garlic. Suited to many pickles, lentils, fish dishes and to season some papadums, asafoetida is also utilised in many South and West Indian dishes.
It is familiar in the early Mediterranean having come by land across Iran, it emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander The Great. After the Roman Empire fell, until the 16th century, asafoetida was rare in Europe and, if ever encountered, it was viewed as a medicine. Largely popular, at one time, among physicians and cooks in Europe, today, it is largely forgotten in the continent.
Used in medicines because of its antibiotic properties, asafoetida is also known to treat impotency, hysteria, mood swings and depression. About 3-6 gm of the gum mixed with 2 tsp of honey, 1/4 tsp of white onion juice and 1 tsp of betel leaf juice, taken thrice daily, helps to keep away from respiratory disorders like whooping cough, asthma and bronchitis. An immensely effective remedy for flatulence, abdominal pains and digestive disorders, asafoetida is effective in kick-starting peristalsis to prevent constipation. It is also powdered and mixed with ghee and rice and served to women after childbirth to prevent the child from getting colic. The dried gum mixed with water relieves headaches, migraines and tension. When mixed with garlic, asafoetida is efficient in preventing snake bites and repelling insects. If given in the same quantity as opium ingested by the patient, asafoetida is known to counteract the effect of the drug. It is used in Europe and the United States in perfumes and for flavouring. Asafoetida is also useful in alleviating toothache. After being pestled in lemon juice, it is slightly heated. A cotton piece soaked in the lotion and placed in the cavity of the tooth, relieves the pain quickly.
It is a gum that is from the sap of the roots and stem of the ferula species, a giant fennel that exudes a vile odour. Early records mention that Alexander the Great carried this “stink finger” west in 4 BC. It was used as a spice in ancient Rome, and although not native to India, it has been used in Indian medicine and cookery for ages. It was believed that asafoetida enhanced singers voices. In the days of the Mughal aristocracy, the court singers if Agra and Delhi would eat a spoonful of asafoetida with butter and practice on the banks of the river Yamuna.
Asafoetida is a hard resinous gum, grayish-white when fresh, darkening with age to yellow, red and eventually brown. It is sold in blocks or pieces as a gum and more frequently as a fine yellow powder, sometimes crystalline or granulated.
Bouquet: a pungent smell of rotting onions or sulphur. The smell dissipates with cooking.
Flavour: on its own, extremely unpleasant, like concentrated rotten garlic. When cooked, it adds an onion-like flavour.
Preparation and Storage
It is vital to keep asafoetida in airtight containers as its sulfurous odour will effect other foods and spices. It is most commonly available as a powder or granules that can be added directly to the cooking pot. It is also sold in lumps that need to be crushed before using. This is a very powerful spice and even in its ground state lasts well over a year if stored properly, away from light and air.
Cooking with Asafoetida
Use in asafoetida in minute quantities, adding directly to cooking liquid, frying in oil, or steeping in water. Asafoetida is used mostly in Indian vegetarian cooking, in which the strong onion-garlic flavour enhances many dishes, especially those of Brahmin and Jain cuisines where onions and garlic are prohibited. It is used mostly in south and west India, though it does not grow there. It is used in many lentil dishes (often to prevent flatulence), vegetarian soups and pickles. It is also suited to many fish dishes and some pappadums are seasoned with asafoetida.
Health Benefits of Asafoetida
Asafoetida is known as an antidote for flatulence and is also prescribed for respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Its vile smell has led to many unusual medical claims, mostly stemming from the belief that it’s foetid odour would act as a deterrent to germs. In several European countries a small piece of the resin would be tied on a string and hung around childrens necks to protect from disease. The shock of the sulfurous smell was once thought to calm hysteria and in the days of the American Wild West it was included in a mixture with other strong spices as a cure for alcoholism.
Plant Description and Cultivation
Asafoetida is grown chiefly in Iran and Afghanistan from where it is exported to the rest of the world. In India it is cultivated in Kashmir. It is a perennial fennel that grows wild to 3.6 metres (12 ft) high, in large natural forests where little else grows. It bears fine leaves and yellow flowers. The roots are thick and pulpy and also yield a similar resin to that of the stems. All parts of the plant have the distinctive fetid smell. In March and April, just before flowering, the stalks are cut close to the root. A milky liquid oozes out, which dries to form a resin. This is collected and a fresh cut is made. This procedure lasts for about three months from the first incision, by which time the plant has yielded up to two pounds of resin and the root has dried up.
Asafoetida, Assafetida, Assafoetida, Devil’s Dung, Devil’s Durt, Food of the Gods (Persian), Laser (Roman), Stinking Gum
French: assa foetida, ferulr perisque
German: Asafotida, Stinkender Asant
Indian: hing, hingu, heeng
History in the West
It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran, and was popular in any self-respecting classical kitchen. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India (commonly known there as Hing). It emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who after returning from a trip to north-eastern Persia, thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed Silphium ofCyrene in North Africa – though less tasty. Dioscorides, in the first century, wrote that, “the Cyrenaic kind, even if one just tastes it, at once arouses a humour throughout the body and has a very healthy aroma, so that it is not noticed on the breath, or only a little; but the Median [Iranian] is weaker in power and has a nastier smell.” Nevertheless, it could be substituted for silphium in cooking, which was fortunate, because a few decades after Dioscorides time, the true silphium of Cyrene went extinct, and Asafoetida gained in popularity, by physicians as well as cooks.
After the Roman Empire fell, until the 16th century, asafoetida was rare in Europe, and if ever encountered, it was viewed as a medicine. “If used in cookery, it would ruin every dish because of its dreadful smell,” asserted García de Orta’s European guest. Nonsense, García replies, “nothing is more widely used in every part of India, both in medicine and in cookery. All the Hindus who can afford it buy it to add to their food.
Cultivation and manufacture
The resin-like gum which comes from the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots is used as a spice. The resin is greyish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. The asafoetida resin is difficult to grate, and is traditionally crushed between stones or with a hammer. Today, the most commonly available form is compounded asafoetida, a fine powder containing 30% asafoetida resin, along with rice flour and gum arabic.
Ferula assafoetida is an herbaceous, monoecious, perennial plant of the family Umbelliferae, also called Apiaceae. It grows to 2 meters high with a circular mass of 30–40 cm leaves. Stem leaves have wide sheathing petioles. Flowering stems are 2.5–3 meters high and 10 cm thick and hollow, with a number of schizogenous ducts in the cortex containing the resinous gum. Flowers are pale greenish yellow produced in large compound umbels. Fruits are oval, flat, thin, reddish brown and have a milky juice. Roots are thick, massive, and pulpy. They yield a resin similar to that of the stems. All parts of the plant have the distinctive fetid smell.
It may be interesting to note that assafoetida is consumed largely by those practitioners of specific forms of medidation or vegetarism whereby garlic and onion consumption are highly discouraged by virtue of their nature to excite the nervous system. For those believers, assafoedia replaces onions and garlic by taste and by content. (Source: Roshan T. T. Chikhuri, Safety and Health Consultant and Expert Facilitator in Community Health – Mauritius).
• Botanical Name: Ferula Asafoetida
• Family: Apiaceae
• Hindi name: Hing
• Part Used:Oleogum resin from rhizome and thickened root
• Form Available: Resin, dried granules, chunks, powder
• Packing: 50g, 100g
The smell of asafoetida is extremely unpleasant, like concentrated rotten garlic, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent of leeks. Its bitter taste and strong disagreeable pungent odour is due to the presence of sulphur compounds therein. It is available in three forms ie. ‘Tears’, ‘Mass’ and ‘Paste’. ‘Tears’, is the purest form of resin, rounded or flattened, 5 to 30 mm in diameter and a greyish or dull yellow in colour.
Asafoetida is a hard resinous gum, grayish-white when fresh, darkening with age to yellow, red and eventually brown. It is sold either as lumps or in powdered form. The former is the most common form of pure asafoetida.
Asafoetida is used in many ways in lentil and/or vegetable preparations. Three ways known to me are
a) Adding the powder/granules to the hot oil while making Tadka.
b) Adding the powder to the preparation just before turning the heat off and putting the lid on.
c) Adding water in which a piece of asafoetida has been dissolved to the preparation before putting the lid in the end.
2. Asafoetida is used as an important condiment in pickles, relishes/chutneys and papads.
Asafoetida is usually used only in minute quantities, because even a little of it goes a long way. Although its smell is strong (I like it actually) when raw, it turns into a pleasant aroma when cooked. Indian preparations with lentils and beans are quite unthinkable without the use of this spice. The reason being its medicinal properties.
Cultivation and Harvest
Asafoetida is mainly grown in Iran (the country of its origin), Afghanistan and in India.
The plant of Asafoetida is found in forests, It grows about 2 metres tall, and is useful only once it is about four years old. The older the plant, the more productive it is. The time to start harvesting the gum from the rather succulent stem and the root is just before flowering, which is in the months of March / April.
An incision is made in the upper part of the root/lower part of the stem and the exuding gum/latex is collected. Several incisions can be made in the root/stem till there is no more gum oozing. This process can last up to three months and one plant can yield up to 2 pounds of gum. The resinous gum is greyish-white when fresh, and darkens to a deep yellow/amber when dried. Chunks of asafoetida resin are broken off to be sold commercially. The gum is seldom sold in its pure form. It is often combined with Arabic gum, wheat/rice flour, turmeric, etc. and sold as Compounded Asafoetida.