Asafoetida the spice trail


The Mountains bordering Afghanistan in Iran during winter 

What is asafoetida, is a gum , is it a sap , what is it….., here began the mystery of our venture to Asafoetida.

Research on the internet shows up a rhizome from which Asafoetida is extracted , and used for food in India and neighbouring countries, for medicines in the middle east and the like. But the look at any Asafoetida spice container , you would see , wheat flour , gum arabic ,  what are these doing in a spice container .

Asafoetida comes in a myraid variety of types

Afghani, Irani, Tajaki, Kazakhaki…. the works. Exotic names like Pinakshir, Sarkash , Hadda, Watani, Dana, RZ quality, XL are a bunch of trade names denoting various types of Asafoetida harvested worldwide. Temperature , altitude, types , rainfall , each factor in a different type and  taste of Asafoetida.

It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India. It emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who, after returning from a trip to northeastern ancient Persia, thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed silphium of Cyrene in North Africa—though less tasty. Dioscorides, in the first century, wrote, “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 became extinct, and asafoetida became more popular amongst physicians, as well as cooks.