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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 of the carrot family. It is produced in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, northern India, and Northwest China (Xinjiang). Different regions have different botanical sources.

Asafoetida has a pungent smell, as reflected in its name, lending it the common name of "stinking gum". The odour 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 'mastic', and Latin foetidus 'stinky'.[2]

Other names include, with its pungent odour having resulted in many unpleasant names:

Names in different languages
Language Name Literal meaning/Notes
Afrikaans duiwelsdrek Devil's dirt
Arabic ḥiltīt[3]
Assamese hiṅ (হিং)
Bengali hiṅ (হিং)
Burmese shein-kho (ရှိန်းခို)
Dutch duivelsdrek[4]
English Devil's dung
Farsi Anghoze
Finnish pirunpaska Devil's shit
Finnish pirunpihka Devil's resin
French merde du Diable[4] Devil shit
German Teufelsdreck,[5] Devil's dirt
Gujarati hīṅg (હિંગ)[1]
Hebrew chiltit (חלתית)[6]
Hebrew chitt[7]
Hindi hīṅg (हींग)
Kannada ingu (ಇಂಗು)
Kashmiri yang’eh (ینگہہ)
Kashubian czarcé łajno chort dung
Malayalam kāyaṃ (കായം) called raamadom in the 14th century
Marathi hinga (हिंग)
Nepali hing (हिङ)
Norwegian dyvelsdrek Devil's dirt
Odia hengu (ହେଙ୍ଗୁ)
Pashto hënjâṇa (هنجاڼه)[8]
Polish czarcie łajno chort dung
Spanish estiércol del diablo Devil's manure
Swedish dyvelsträck Devil's dirt
Tamil perunkayam (பெருங்காயம்)
Telugu inguva (ఇంగువ)
Turkish Şeytan boku[4] Satan's shit
Turkish Şeytan otu[4] Satan's weed
Turkish Şeytan tersi[4]
Urdu hīṅg (ہینگ)


Typical asafoetida contains about 40–64% resin, 25% endogeneous gum, 10–17% volatile oil, and 1.5–10% ash. The resin portion contains asaresinotannols A and B, ferulic acid, umbelliferone and four unidentified compounds.[9] The volatile oil component is rich in various organosulphide compounds, such as 2-butyl-propenyl-disulphide, diallyl sulphide, diallyl disulphide (also present in garlic) [10] and dimethyl trisulphide, which is also responsible for the odour of cooked onions. The organosulphides are primarily responsible for the odour and flavour of asafoetida.[11]

Botanical sources

Many Ferula species are utilised as the sources of asafoetida. Most of them are characterised by abundant sulphur-containing compounds in the essential oil.[12][11]



Containers of commercial asafoetida

This spice is used as a digestive aid,[citation needed] in food as a condiment, and in pickling. It plays a critical flavouring role in Indian vegetarian cuisine by acting as a savory enhancer. 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 quickly heated in hot oil before it's sprinkled on the food. It is sometimes used to harmonise sweet, sour, salty, and spicy components in food. The spice is added to the food as it's tempered.[19]

In its pure form, it is sold in the form of chunks of resin, small quantities of which are scraped off for use. The odour 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.[20]

When adapting recipes for those with garlic allergy or intolerance, asafoetida can be used as a substitute.

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.[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.[21]


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 that he 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.[22]

Asafoetida is also mentioned numerous times in Jewish literature, such as the Mishnah.[23] 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]."[24]

While it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is 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.[25] Devotees of the Hare Krishna movement 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.[26]

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.[27]

After the fall of Rome and 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.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "asafœtida". Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b c d e "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.
  5. ^ Thomas Carlyle's well-known 19th century novel Sartor Resartus concerns a German philosopher named Teufelsdröckh.
  6. ^ ben Jehiel, Nathan (1553). ספר הערוך [Sefer he-ʻArukh] (in Hebrew). Venice: Frentsuni-Bragadin.
  7. ^ ben Jehiel, Nathan (1553). ספר הערוך [Sefer he-ʻArukh] (in Hebrew). Venice: Frentsuni-Bragadin.
  8. ^ Pashto–English Dictionary
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c d e f 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. S2CID 224886254.
  12. ^ a b c d 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. S2CID 86139520.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ a b c d 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. PMID 31629871. S2CID 204814018.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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]. Vol. 一部. 北京: 中国医药科技出版社. p. 190. ISBN 978-7-5067-7337-9. OCLC 953251657.
  18. ^ 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. PMID 461565. S2CID 260252341.
  19. ^ Sarda, Shalbha (2023-01-12). "Devil's dung or dinner delight? The story behind hing, one of India's most divisive ingredients". CNN. Retrieved 2024-01-20.
  20. ^ K, Priya (September 12, 2018). "Asafetida Is the Spice That Makes My Indian Food Taste, Well, Indian". Bon Appétit. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Andrew Dalby. 2000. University of California Press. Spices/ History. 184 pages. ISBN 0-520-23674-2
  23. ^ m. Avodah Zarah ch. 1; m. Shabbat ch. 20; et al.
  24. ^ Mishneh Torah, Laws of Opinions (Hilchot Deot) 4:8.
  25. ^ Pickersgill, Barbara (2005). Prance, Ghillean; Nesbitt, Mark (eds.). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge. p. 157. ISBN 0415927463.
  26. ^ "Why no onions or garlic?". food.krishna.com. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Menghi, Girolamo. The Devil's Scourge: Exorcism During the Italian Renaissance. p. 151.