Jump to navigation Jump to search
style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;"|Asafoetida
Ferula scorodosma syn. assafoetida
Ferula scorodosma syn. assafoetida
style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;" | Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Ferula
Species: F. assafoetida
Binomial name
Ferula assafoetida

Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida), alternative spelling asafetida, Template:PronEng [1] (also known as devil's dung, stinking gum, asant, food of the gods, hing, Hilteet, and giant fennel) is a species of Ferula native to Iran. It is an herbaceous perennial plant growing to 2 m tall, with stout, hollow, somewhat succulent stems 5-8 cm diameter at the base of the plant. The leaves are 30–40 cm long, tripinnate or even more finely divided, with a stout basal sheath clasping the stem. The flowers are yellow, produced in large compound umbels.

Asafoetida has a foul smell when raw, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent of leeks.



Jars of commercially available asafetida powder.

This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment and in pickles. Its odor is so strong that it must be stored in airtight containers; otherwise the aroma, which is nauseating in quantities, will contaminate other spices stored nearby. However, its odour and flavor become much milder and more pleasant upon heating in oil or ghee, acquiring a taste and aroma reminiscent of sautéed onion and garlic[1]. In India, it is used especially by the merchant caste of the Hindus and by adherents of Jainism, who do not eat onions or garlic. It is used in most vegetarian and lentil dishes to both add flavor and aroma and reduce flatulence. It is mainly grown in Iran, Afghanistan. The Indian companies Laljee Godhoo, Laxmi Hing (R M Kanani & Co - Gujarat) are the world's largest producers of compounded asafoetida.

Impact on health & medical applications

Asafetida has certain medicinal uses and most commonly is used as a digestive aid. It is reputed to lessen flatulence and is often added to lentil or eggplant dishes in small quantities. It is also said to be helpful in cases of asthma and bronchitis. A folk tradition remedy for children's colds: it is mixed into a foul-smelling paste and hung in a bag around the afflicted child's neck. In Thailand it is used to aid babies' digestion and is smeared on the child's stomach in an alcohol tincture known as "mahahing." John C Duval reported in 1936 that the odor of asafetida is attractive to the wolf, a matter of common knowledge, he says, along the Texas/Mexican border.

Asafetida has also been reported to have contraceptive/abortifacient activity [2] , and is related (and considered an inferior substitute to) the ancient Ferula species Silphium.

Asafoetida oleo-gum-resin has been reported to be antiepileptic in classical Unani as well as ethnobotanical literature. [3]

Other practical or spiritual uses

It is also used as one of several possible scent baits, most notably for catfish and pike.

In Jamaica, asafetida is traditionally applied to a baby's anterior fontanel (Jamaican patois "mole") in order to prevent spirits (Jamaican patois "duppies") from entering the baby through the fontanel.


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 (modern Afghanistan), 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 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. [4]

After the Roman Empire fell, until the 16th century, asafoetida was rare in Europe, and if ever encountered, is 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. The rich Brahmins, and all the Hindus who are vegetarian, eat a lot of it. They add it to their vegetables and herbs, and first rubbing the cooking put with it: it is seasoning, sauce, and condiment in every dish they eat."[4]

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 grayish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. The asafetida resin is difficult to grate, and is traditionally crushed between stones or with a hammer. Today, the most commonly available form is compounded asafetida, a fine powder containing 30% asafetida resin, along with rice flour and gum arabic.

Ferula assafoetida is an herbaceous, monoecious, perennial plant of the family Umbelliferae. It grows to 2 m high with a circular mass of leaves. Flowering stems are 2.5–3 m high and 10 cm thick, with a number of schizogenous ducts in the cortex containing the resinous gum. Stem leaves have wide sheathing petioles. Compound large umbels arise from large sheaths. Flowers are pale greenish yellow. Fruits are oval, flat, thin, reddish brown and have a milky juice. Roots are thick, massive, and pulpy. It yields a resin similar to that of the stems. All parts of the plant have the distinctive fetid smell.[5]


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 asareninotannols 'A' and 'B', ferulic acid, umbelliferone and four unidentified compounds. [6]


Asafoetida's English and scientific name is derived from the Persian word for resin (asa) and Latin foetida, which refers to its strong sulfurous odor. Its pungent odor has resulted in its being called by many unpleasant names; thus in French it is known (among other names) as Merde du Diable (Devil's Shit); in some dialects of English too it was known as Devil's Dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages (e.g. German Teufelsdreck [7], Swedish Dyvelsträck, Dutch Duivelsdrek, Afrikaans Duiwelsdrek), also in Finnish Pirunpaska or Pirunpihka. In Turkish, it is known as Şeytantersi, Şeytan bökösu or Şeytanotu (the Devil's Herb). In many of the Indo-Aryan languages it is known as hing or "Heeng". Another name occurs in many Dravidian languages (e.g. Telugu Inguva, Kannada Ingu), but Tamil (perungaayam) and Malayalam kaayam come from a different root.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary. asafœtida. Second edition, 1989.
  2. Riddle, John M. 1992. Contraception and abortion from the ancient world to the Renaissance. Harvard University Press p. 28 and references therein.
  3. Traditional Systems of Medicine By Abdin, M Z Abdin, Y P Abrol. Published 2006 Alpha Science Int'l Ltd. ISBN 8173197075
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices By Andrew Dalby. Published 2000 University of California Press Spices/ History 184 pages ISBN 0520236742
  5. 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 Author: Ivan A. Ross
  6. Handbook of Indices of Food Quality and Authenticity By Rekha S. Singhal, Pushpa R. Kulkarni. Published 1997 Woodhead Publishing Food industry and trade ISBN 1855732998 ... Note there is more good information about the composition in this reference, page 395.
  7. Thomas Carlyle's well-known 19th century novel Sartor Resartus concerns a German philosopher named Teufelsdröckh.

External links

Template:Herbs & spices

cs:Asa foetida de:Asant he:חלתית ml:കായം mr:हिंग nds:Düvelsdreck fi:Hajupihka sv:Dyvelsträck te:ఇంగువ

Template:WH Template:WS