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Unprocessed asafoetida in a jar and as a tincture
Unprocessed asafoetida in a jar and as a tincture

Asafoetida (/æsəˈfɛtɪdə/; also spelled asafetida)[1] is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula, perennial herbs growing 1 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 ft) tall. They are part of the celery family, Umbelliferae. Asafoetida is thought to be in the same genus as silphium, a North African plant now believed to be extinct, and was used as a cheaper substitute for that historically important herb from classical antiquity. The species are native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan where substantial amounts are grown.[2]

Asafoetida has a pungent smell, lending it the trivial name of "stinking gum". The odor dissipates upon cooking; in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks or other onion relatives. Asafoetida is also known colloquially as "devil's dung" in English (and similar expressions in many other languages).

Etymology and other names

The English name is derived from asa, a latinised form of Persian azā, meaning 'mastic', and Latin foetidus meaning 'smelling, fetid', which refers to its strong sulfurous odour.[3]

In the United States, a folk spelling and pronunciation is "asafedity".[citation needed] It is called perunkayam (பெருங்காயம்) in Tamil, hinga (हिंग) in Marathi, yang’eh/ینگہہ in Kashmiri language, hengu (ହେଙ୍ଗୁ) in Odia, hiṅ (হিং) in Bengali, ingu (ಇಂಗು) in Kannada, kāyaṃ (കായം) in Malayalam[4] (it was attested as raamadom in the 14th century), inguva (ఇంగువ) in Telugu,[4] and hīng (हींग) in Hindi.[4] In Pashto, it is called hënjâṇa (هنجاڼه).[5] 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'.[6] In English it is sometimes called Devil's dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages (e.g., German Teufelsdreck,[7] Swedish dyvelsträck, Dutch duivelsdrek,[6] and Afrikaans duiwelsdrek). Also, it is called chitt or chiltit (חילתית) in Hebrew;[8] in Finnish, pirunpaska or pirunpihka; in Turkish, Şeytan tersi, Şeytan boku or Şeytan otu;[6] and in Kashubian it is called czarcé łajno. Other names for it include ting[4] and haltit or tyib in Arabic.[9][clarification needed]and hingu in Malay.[citation needed]


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.[10] The volatile oil component is rich in various organosulfide compounds, such as 2-butyl-propenyl-disulfide, diallyl sulfide, diallyl disulfide (also present in garlic) [11] and dimethyl trisulfide, which is also responsible for the odor of cooked onions.[12] The organosulfides are primarily responsible for the odor and flavor of asafoetida.[citation needed]

Botanical sources

Many Ferula species are utilized as the sources of asafoetida. Most of them are characterized by abundant sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[13][14]

  • Ferula foetida is the source of asafoetida in Eastern Iran, western Afghanistan, western Pakistan and Central Asia (Karakum Desert, Kyzylkum Desert).[15][16] It is one of the most widely distributed asafoetida-producing species and often mistaken for F. assa-foetida.[15] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[14]
  • Ferula assa-foetida is endemic to Southern Iran and is the source of asafoetida there. It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[13][14] Although it is often considered the main source of asafoetida on the international market, this notion is attributable to the fact that several Ferula species acting as the major sources are often misidentified as F. assa-foetida.[15][17] In fact, the production of asafoetida from F. assa-foetida is confined to its native range, namely Southern Iran, outside which the sources of asafoetida are other species.[14][16][18]
  • Ferula pseudalliacea and Ferula rubricaulis endemic to western and southwestern Iran are sometimes considered conspecific with F. assa-foetida.[15][17]
  • Ferula lutensis is the source of asafoetida in Eastern Iran.[14][16] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[14]
  • Ferula alliacea is the source of asafoetida in Eastern Iran.[16] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[14]
  • Ferula latisecta is the source of asafoetida in Eastern Iran and southern Turkmenistan.[16] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[13]
  • Ferula sinkiangensis is endemic to Xinjiang, China. It is the source of asafoetida in China.[19] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[13]
  • Ferula fukanensis is endemic to Xinjiang, China. It is the source of asafoetida in China.[19] It has sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[13]
  • Ferula narthex is native to Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and Kashmir.[15] Although it is often listed as the source of asafoetida, one report stated that it lacked sulfur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[20]



Containers of commercial asafoetida
Containers of commercial asafoetida

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 a savory enhancer.[21] Used along with turmeric, it is a standard component of lentil curries, such as dal, chickpea curries, and vegetable dishes, especially those based on potato and cauliflower. Asafoetida is used in vegetarian Indian Punjabi and South Indian cuisine where it enhances the flavor of numerous dishes, where it is quickly heated in hot oil before sprinkling on the food. Kashmiri cuisine also uses it in lamb/mutton dishes such as Rogan Josh.[22] It is sometimes used to harmonise 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 small quantities) can be mixed with salt and eaten with raw salad.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Cultivation and manufacture

Asafoetida powder
Asafoetida powder

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.[citation needed]

Ferula assa-foetida is a monoecious, herbaceous, perennial plant of the family Apiaceae. It grows to 2 m (6+12 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 (8–10 ft) high and 10 cm (4 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.[23]


Asafoetida was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran. It was brought to Europe by 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.[24]

Asafoetida is also mentioned numerous times in Jewish literature, such as the Mishnah.[25] 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 [חִלְתִּית chiltit]."[26]

Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India. Asafoetida is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana (7:5:23-24), which states that one must not have eaten hing before worshipping the deity. Asafoetida is eaten by Brahmins and Jains.[27] Devotees of the Hare Krishna also use hing in their food, as they are not allowed to consume onions or garlic. Their food has to be presented to Lord Krishna for sanctification (to become Prasadam) before consumption and onions and garlic cannot be offered to Krishna.[28]

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.[29]

After the fall of Rome, 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." During the Italian Renaissance, asafoetida was used as part of the exorcism ritual.[30]

See also


  1. ^ "asafœtida". Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Cannon, Garland Hampton; Kaye, Alan S. (2001). The Persian Contributions to the English Language: An Historical Dictionary. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 978-3-447-04503-2.
  4. ^ a b c d Literature Search Unit (January 2013). "Ferula Asafoetida: Stinking Gum. Scientific literature search through SciFinder on Ferula asafetida". Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. ^ Pashto–English Dictionary
  6. ^ a b c "Asafoetida: die geur is des duivels!" Vegatopia (in Dutch), retrieved 8 December 2011. This was used also as a source the book World Food Café: Global Vegetarian Cooking by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott, 1999, ISBN 978-1-57959-060-4.
  7. ^ Thomas Carlyle's well-known 19th century novel Sartor Resartus concerns a German philosopher named Teufelsdröckh.
  8. ^ ben Jehiel, Nathan (1553). ספר הערוך [Sefer he-ʻArukh] (in Hebrew). Venice: Frentsuni-Bragadin.
  9. ^ Mahendra, Poonam; Bisht, Shradha (2012). "Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity". Pharmacognosy Reviews. 6 (12): 141–146. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99948. ISSN 0973-7847. PMC 3459456. PMID 23055640.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Mahendra, P; Bisht, S (2012). "Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity". Pharmacogn Rev. 6 (12): 141–6. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99948. PMC 3459456. PMID 23055640.
  12. ^ Asafoetida. Katrina Kramer. Royal Society of Chemistry Podcast. 22 June 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d e Sahebkar, Amirhossein; Iranshahi, Mehrdad (2010-12-01). "Biological activities of essential oils from the genus Ferula (Apiaceae)". Asian Biomedicine. 4 (6): 835–847. doi:10.2478/abm-2010-0110. ISSN 1875-855X.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Farhadi, Faegheh; Iranshahi, Mehrdad; Taghizadeh, Seyedeh Faezeh; Asili, Javad (2020-11-01). "Volatile sulfur compounds: The possible metabolite pattern to identify the sources and types of asafoetida by headspace GC/MS analysis". Industrial Crops and Products. 155: 112827. doi:10.1016/j.indcrop.2020.112827. ISSN 0926-6690.
  15. ^ a b c d e Chamberlain, David F (1977). "The identity of Ferula assa-foetida L." Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. 35 (2): 229–233.
  16. ^ a b c d e Farhadi, Faegheh; Asili, Javad; Iranshahy, Milad; Iranshahi, Mehrdad (2019-11-01). "NMR-based metabolomic study of asafoetida". Fitoterapia. 139: 104361. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2019.104361. ISSN 0367-326X.
  17. ^ a b Panahi, Mehrnoush; Banasiak, łukasz; Piwczyński, Marcin; Puchałka, Radosław; Kanani, Mohammad Reza; Oskolski, Alexei A; Modnicki, Daniel; Miłobędzka, Aleksandra; Spalik, Krzysztof (2018-09-28). "Taxonomy of the traditional medicinal plant genus Ferula (Apiaceae) is confounded by incongruence between nuclear rDNA and plastid DNA". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 188 (2): 173–189. doi:10.1093/botlinnean/boy055. ISSN 0024-4074.
  18. ^ Barzegar, Alireza; Salim, Mohammad Amin; Badr, Parmis; Khosravi, Ahmadreza; Hemmati, Shiva; Seradj, Hassan; Iranshahi, Mehrdad; Mohagheghzadeh, Abdolali (2020). "Persian asafoetida vs. sagapenum: challenges and opportunities". Research Journal of Pharmacognosy. 7 (2): 71–80. doi:10.22127/rjp.2019.196452.1516.
  19. ^ a b 国家药典委员会 (2015). 中华人民共和国药典:2015年版 [Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China]. 一部. 北京: 中国医药科技出版社. p. 190. ISBN 978-7-5067-7337-9. OCLC 953251657.
  20. ^ Samimi, M.; Unger, W. (1979). "Die Gummiharze Afghanischer "Asa foetida"–liefernder Ferula–Arten. Beobachtungen zur Herkunft und Qualität Afghanischer "Asa foetida"". Planta Medica. 36 (6): 128–133. doi:10.1055/s-0028-1097252. ISSN 0032-0943.
  21. ^ Carolyn Beans. Meet Hing: The Secret-Weapon Spice Of Indian Cuisine.June 22, 2016.
  22. ^ Kashmiri Recipes; Mutton Rogan Josh. It is essential to many many south Indian dishes. Archived 2018-12-11 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Ross, Ivan A. (2005). "Ferula assafoetida". Medicinal Plants of the World, Volume 3. pp. 223–234. doi:10.1007/978-1-59259-887-8_6. ISBN 978-1-58829-129-5.
  24. ^ Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Andrew Dalby. 2000. University of California Press. Spices/ History. 184 pages. ISBN 0-520-23674-2
  25. ^ m. Avodah Zarah ch. 1; m. Shabbat ch. 20; et al.
  26. ^ Mishneh Torah, Laws of Opinions (Hilchot Deot) 4:8.
  27. ^ Pickersgill, Barbara (2005). Prance, Ghillean; Nesbitt, Mark (eds.). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge. p. 157. ISBN 0415927463.
  28. ^ "Why no onions or garlic?". Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ Menghi, Girolamo. The Devil's Scourge: Exorcism During the Italian Renaissance. p. 151.

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