Asafoetida (//; also spelled asafœtida) பேருங்காயம் is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula foetida, a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) tall. It is part of the celery family Umbelliferae. Asafoetida is thought to be in the same genus as silphium, a plant now believed to be extinct, and was used as a cheaper substitute for that historically important herb. The species is native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan, but is mainly cultivated in nearby India.
Asafoetida has a pungent smell, thus its trivial name stinking gum, but in cooked dishes it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks. It is also known as food of the gods, devil’s dung, jowani badian, hing, hengu, inguva, kayam, and ting.
This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment, and in pickling. It plays a critical flavoring role in Indian vegetarian cuisine by acting as an umami enhancer. Used along with turmeric, it is a standard component of lentil curries such as dal and sambar, as well as in numerous vegetable dishes, especially those based on potato and cauliflower. Kashmiri cuisine also uses it in lamb/mutton dishes such as Rogan Josh. It is sometimes used to harmonize sweet, sour, salty, and spicy components in food. The spice is added to the food at the time of tempering. Sometimes dried and ground asafoetida (in very small quantities) can be mixed with salt and eaten with raw salad.
In its pure form, it is sold in the form of chunks of resin, small quantities of which are scraped off for use. The odor of the pure resin is so strong that the pungent smell will contaminate other spices stored nearby if it is not stored in an airtight container. Many commercial preparations of asafoetida use the resin ground up and mixed with a larger volume of other neutral ingredients, such as gum arabic, wheat flour, rice flour and turmeric. The mixture is sold in sealed plastic containers with a hole that allows direct dusting of the powder. Asafetida odour and flavour become much milder and much less pungent upon heating in oil or ghee. Sometimes, it is fried along with sautéed onion and garlic.
In Afghanistan, extract of the dried gum is taken for menstruation, whooping cough and to treat ulcers as an oral mouth wash. Hot water extract of the root is taken as an antispasmodic, diuretic, vermifuge and an analgesic. It can also be inhaled as a way to treat pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis. The extract of the dried leaf and stem can be taken orally by males as an aphrodisiac.
- Bait: John C Duval reported in 1936 that the odour of asafoetida is attractive to the wolf, a matter of common knowledge, he says, along the Texas–Mexico border. It is also used as one of several possible scent baits, most notably for catfish and pike.
- Along the coasts of south India it is used to kill unwanted trees by boring a hole in the tree and filling the hole with asafoetida.
- May also be used as a moth (Lepidoptera) light trap attractant by collectors—when mixed by approximately one part to three parts with a sweet, fruit jelly.
- Commonly used in Pennsylvania Dutch braucherei (folk magic) to prevent illness, it would be stored in a pouch on a lanyard and worn around the neck.
- Repelling spirits: In Jamaica, asafoetida is traditionally applied to a baby’s anterior fontanel (Jamaican patois mole) to prevent spirits (Jamaican patois duppies) from entering the baby through the fontanel. In the African American Hoodoo tradition, asafoetida is used in magic spells, as it is believed to have the power both to protect and to curse.
- In ceremonial magic, especially from The Key of Solomon the King, it is used to protect the magus from daemonic forces and to evoke the same and bind them.
History in the West
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 an 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.
Asafoetida is also mentioned numerous times in Jewish literature, such as the Mishnah. Maimonides also writes in the Mishneh Torah “In the rainy season, one should eat warm food with much spice, but a limited amount of mustard and asafoetida.”
Asafoetida was described by a number of Arab and Islamic scientists and pharmacists. Avicenna discussed the effects of asafoetida on digestion. Ibn al-Baitar and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi described some positive medicinal effects on the respiratory system.
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 Garcia de Orta‘s European guest. “Nonsense,” Garcia replied, “nothing is more widely used in every part of India, both in medicine and in cookery. All the Hindus add it to their food.” During the Italian Renaissance, asafoetida was used as part of the exorcism ritual.
Cultivation and manufacture
The resin-like gum comes from the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots and is used as a spice. The resin is greyish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber colour. 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 or maida (white wheat flour) and gum arabic.
Ferula assafoetida is a monoecious, herbaceous, perennial plant of the family Apiaceae. It grows to 2 m (6.6 ft) high, with a circular mass of 30–40 cm (12–16 in) leaves. Stem leaves have wide sheathing petioles. Flowering stems are 2.5–3 m (8.2–9.8 ft) high and 10 cm (3.9 in) 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.
Typical asafoetida contains about 40–64% resin, 25% endogeneous gum, 10–17% volatile oil, and 1.5–10% ash. The resin portion is known to contain asaresinotannols ‘A’ and ‘B’, ferulic acid, umbelliferone and four unidentified compounds. The volatile oil component is rich in various organosulfide compounds, such as 2-butyl-propenyl-disulfide, diallyl sulfide, diallyl disulfide (also present in garlic)  and dimethyl trisulfide, which is also responsible for the odor of cooked onions. The organosulfides are primarily responsible for the odor and flavor of asafoetida.
The English name is derived from asa, a Latinized form of Persian azā, meaning “resin”, and Latin foetidus meaning “smelling, fetid”, which refers to its strong sulfurous odour. In the U.S., the folk spelling and pronunciation is “asafedity”. It is called हिंग (hinga) in Marathi, हींग “(hīng)” in Hindi, ହେଙ୍ଗୁ “(hengu)” in Odiya, হিং “(hiṅ)” in Bengali, ಇಂಗು (ingu) in Kannada, കായം (kāyaṃ) in Malayalam, ఇంగువ (inguva) in Telugu and பெருங்காயம் (perunkayam) in Tamil. In Pashto it is called, هنجاڼه “(hënjâṇa)”. In 14th century Malayalam it is called ‘Raamadom” and are sold by special Traders called “Raamador.’ Its pungent odour has resulted in its being known by many unpleasant names. In French it is known (among other names) as merde du Diable, meaning “Devil’s shit”. in English it is sometimes called Devil’s dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages (e.g., German Teufelsdreck, Swedish dyvelsträck, Dutch duivelsdrek and Afrikaans duiwelsdrek). Also, in Finnish it is called pirunpaska or pirunpihka, in Turkish it is known as Şeytan tersi, Şeytan boku or Şeytan otu and in Kashubian it is called czarcé łajno.
- “asafœtida”. Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2012.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Literature Search Unit (January 2013). “Ferula Asafoetida: Stinking Gum. Scientific literature search through SciFinder on Ferula asafetida”. Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine.
- Carolyn Beans. Meet Hing: The Secret-Weapon Spice Of Indian Cuisine.June 22, 2016. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/22/482779599/meet-hing-the-secret-weapon-spice-of-indian-cuisine
- Kashmiri Recipes; Mutton Rogan Josh. http://www.polkacafe.com/authentic-kashmiri-recipes-2524.html
- Vandevi Hing (Asafoetida): list of ingredients. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000JMDJ5C
- “I Spice: Asafetida”. The Washington Post. 23 April 2010.
- U.S. Patent No. 306, 896 Mixture for Fish-Baits. Inventor – Carol F. Bates of Hughes Springs, Texas. Ingredients are asafoetida, oil of anise, and honey (lines 12-13).
- MacGregor Mathers, Samuel Liddell, ed. (1889). “VII”. The Key of Solomon (Clavicula Salomonis). London: George Redway.
Then he shall kindle a fire with dry rue, upon which he shall put powdered assafoetida, and other things of evil odour; after which let him put the aforesaid names, written on parchment or virgin paper, upon the fire, saying: […] —
- Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Andrew Dalby. 2000. University of California Press. Spices/ History. 184 pages. ISBN 0-520-23674-2
- m. Avodah Zarah ch. 1; m. Shabbat ch. 20; et al.
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Opinions (Hilchot Deot) 4:8.
- Avicenna (1999). The Canon of Medicine (al-Qānūn fī’l-ṭibb), vol. 1. Laleh Bakhtiar (ed.), Oskar Cameron Gruner (trans.), Mazhar H. Shah (trans.). Great Books of the Islamic World. ISBN 978-1-871031-67-6
- Menghi, Girolamo. The Devil’s Scourge: Exorcism During the Italian Renaissance. p. 151.
- Abstract from Medicinal Plants of the World, Volume 3, Chemical Constituents, Traditional and Modern Medicinal Uses. Humana Press. ISBN 978-1-58829-129-5 (Print) 978-1-59259-887-8 (Online). DOI 10.1007/978-1-59259-887-8_6. Ivan A. Ross. http://www.springerlink.com/content/k358h1m6251u5053/
- Handbook of Indices of Food Quality and Authenticity. Rekha S. Singhal, Pushpa R. Kulkarni. 1997, Woodhead Publishing, Food industry and trade ISBN 1-85573-299-8. More information about the composition, p. 395.
- Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity. Poonam Mahendra and Shradha Bisht. Pharmacogn Rev. 2012 Jul-Dec; 6(12): 141–146. PMC 3459456 PMID 23055640
- Asafoetida. Katrina Kramer. Royal Society of Chemistry Podcast. 22 June 2016. https://www.chemistryworld.com/podcasts/asafoetida/1010150.article
- Pashto-English Dictionary
- Asafoetida: die geur is des duivels! Vegatopia (in Dutch), Retrieved 8 December 2011. This used as source the book World Food Café: global vegetarian cooking by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott, 1999, ISBN 978-1-57959-060-4
- Thomas Carlyle‘s well-known 19th century novel Sartor Resartus concerns a German philosopher named Teufelsdröckh.
- Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages, Botany, etymology, uses—detailed
- Sally’s Place, Additional information from Ammini Ramachandran
- Saudi Aramco World article on the history of asafoetida
- Kashmiri Recipes; Mutton Rogan Josh
- Caldecott, Todd (2006). Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life. Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 978-0-7234-3410-8. Contains a detailed monograph on Ferula foetida, F. narthex, F. rubricaulis (Hing; Devil’s Dung; Asafoetida) as well as a discussion of health benefits and usage in clinical practice (online)