Ferula assa-foetida[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Ferula
Species: F. assa-foetida
Binomial name
Ferula assa-foetida
  • Ferula assafoetida L.
  • Ferula foetida St.-Lag.
  • Ferula hooshee Lindl. ex Descourt.
  • Narthex assafoetida (L.) Falc.
  • Narthex assa-foetida (L.) Falc.
  • Peucedanum hooshe Baill.

Asafoetida /æsəˈfɛtdə/[3] is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula, a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) tall. The species is native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan and is mainly cultivated in nearby India.[4] As its name suggests, asafoetida has a fetid smell,[5] but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavour reminiscent of leeks.

It is also known as devil's dung, asant, food of the gods, jowani badian, stinking gum, hing, hengu, ingu, kayam, and ting.[5] The plant is in the same genus as the now extinct Silphium.



This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment, and in pickling. It typically works as a flavour enhancer and, used along with turmeric, is a standard component of Indian cuisine, particularly in lentil curries such as dal as well as in numerous vegetable dishes. It is sometimes used to harmonize sweet, sour, salty and spicy components in food. Asafoetida, onion, and garlic are considered tamas in nature; yogic texts forbid the use of these three substances in food, and place them alongside meat and alcohol in terms of producing tamas or lethargy. The spice is added to the food at the time of tempering. Sometimes dried and ground asafoetida (in very mild quantity) can be mixed with salt and eaten with raw salad.

In its pure form, its odour is so strong the pungent smell will contaminate other spices stored nearby if it is not stored in an airtight container: many commercial preparations of asafoetida utilize the resin ground up and mixed with a larger volume of wheat flour. The mixture is sold in sealed plastic containers. However, its odour and flavour become much milder and much less in pungency upon heating in oil or ghee. Sometimes, it is fried along with sautéed onion and garlic.

It is thought of digestive in terms of reducing flatulence.[6] It is, however, one of the pungent vegetables generally avoided by Buddhist non-vegetarians.

Folk medicine

Other uses

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 a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who, after returning from a trip to northeastern 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's time, the true silphium of Cyrene became extinct, and asafoetida became more popular amongst physicians, as well as cooks.[20]

Asafoetida is also mentioned numerous times in Jewish literature, such as the Mishnah.[21] 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."[22]

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.[23]

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 who can afford it buy it to add to their food."[20]

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 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.[24]


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.[25]


The English name is derived from asa, a Latinized form of Farsi 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 हींग "(hïng)" 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)".[26] 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 faeces",[27] in English it is sometimes called Devil's dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages (e.g. German Teufelsdreck,[28] Swedish dyvelsträck, Dutch duivelsdrek[27] 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[27] and in Kashubian it is called czarcé łajno.

See also


  1. 1897 illustration from Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen
  2. The Plant List, Ferula assa-foetida L.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary. "asafœtida". Second edition, 1989.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  5. 1 2 Literature Search Unit (January 2013). "Ferula Asafoetida: Stinking Gum. Scientific literature search through SciFinder on Ferula asafetida". Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine.
  6. "I Spice: Asafetida". The Washington Post. 23 April 2010.
  7. S. K. Garg, A. C. Banerjea, J. Verma and M. J. Abraham, "Effect of Various Treatments of Pulses on in Vitro Gas Production by Selected Intestinal Clostridia". Journal of Food Science, Volume 45, Issue 6 (p. 1601–1602).
  8. Hemla Aggarwal and Nidhi Kotwal. Foods Used as Ethno-medicine in Jammu. Ethno-Med, 3(1): 65–68 (2009)
  9. Beaumont, William: Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion (McLachlan & Stewart, Edinburgh, 1888), p.15
  10. Lee, Chia-Lin; Chiang, Lien-Chai; Cheng, Li-Hung; Liaw, Chih-Chuang; Abd El-Razek, Mohamed H.; Chang, Fang-Rong; Wu, Yang-Chang (August 2009). "Influenza A (H1N1) Antiviral and Cytotoxic Agents from Ferula assa-foetida". Journal of Natural Products. xxx (xx): 1568–72. doi:10.1021/np900158f. PMID 19691312.
  11. Ancient Chinese Remedy May Work for Flu
  12. Mahendra, Poonam; Bisht, Shadhra (2012). "Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity". Pharmacognosy Review. 6 (12): 141–146. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99948.
  13. Srinivasan, K.(2005) "Role of Spices Beyond Food Flavoring: Nutraceuticals with Multiple Health Effects", Food Reviews International, 21:2, 167–188
  14. John M. Riddle 1992. Contraception and abortion from the ancient world to the Renaissance. Harvard University Press p. 28 and references therein.
  15. Traditional Systems of Medicine. Abdin, M Z, Abdin, Y P Abrol. Published 2006 Alpha Science Int'l Ltd. ISBN 81-7319-707-5
  16. p. 74, The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai, Lotus Light, 1991. ISBN 978-0-914955-06-1.
  17. "What's in your Acifidity Bag?". Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  18. 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).
  19. 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: [...] —
  20. 1 2 Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Andrew Dalby. 2000. University of California Press. Spices/ History. 184 pages. ISBN 0-520-23674-2
  21. m. Avodah Zarah ch. 1; m. Shabbat ch. 20; et al.
  22. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Opinions (Hilchot Deot) 4:8.
  23. 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
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. Pashto-English Dictionary
  27. 1 2 3 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
  28. Thomas Carlyle's well-known 19th century novel Sartor Resartus concerns a German philosopher named Teufelsdröckh.

External links

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