Asafoetida, Asafetida, devil’s dung, hing, kaayam, ingua, and perungayam-is the gum resin obtained from the roots and rhizomes of Ferula asafoetida. This name is derived from the Farsi word aza which means resin and Latin foetidus meaning smelling or fetid. It is indigenous to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan. The plant belongs to the species of the fennel plant, but a relative of the carrot. 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.
The plant has to be at least four years of age when it is tapped for collection of the gum. The process is continued for three months from the first incision is made, and a single plant may yield upto one kilogram of resin. The fresh gum is a soft, almost semi liquid mass that undergoes a gradual colour change from shimmering yellowish white to reddish-brown‘Tears’, is the purest form of resin it is a greyish or dull yellow in colour. The most common commercial form is ‘Mass’; while ‘Paste’ form contains extraneous matter. There are two main varieties of asafoetida i.e. Hing Kabuli Sufaid (Milky white asafoetida) and Hing Lal (Red asafoetida) the white or pale variety is water soluble, whereas the dark or black variety is oil soluble.
The presence of sulphur compounds makes, Asafoetida acrid and bitter in taste. It
emits a strong disagreeable pungent odour due to the presence of sulphur compounds. This odour has given rise to many claims. It has been said to act as a deterrent to germs. It contains disulfides, asafoetidnol A and B, galbanic acid, glucuronic acid, galactose, arabinose and rhamnose. Pinene, cadinene, and vanillin are found in the oil and umbelliferone, asaresinotannol and ferulic acid in the resin.
It has been used for
- abdominal tumors
- intestinal spasms
- as a diuretic
- a sedative
- a stimulant
- an antidote for flatulence
- For respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough.
- for intestinal worms
- rheumatoid arthritis, mylagia, and traumatic swelling
- to alleviate toothaches
- for snake bites and bee stings
- To ward off snakes.
Asafoetida has been known as the Food of the Gods. Alexander the great used it to help with digestion as he went on his conquest. It has been a culinary ingredient in the eastern cooking, especially in dishes with pulses and lentils. It is now used in Worchester sauce.