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 South Asia, 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).

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:

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]

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]

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 South Asian 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 used in vegetarian Indian cuisine where it enhances the flavour of numerous dishes, where it is quickly heated in hot oil before sprinkling on the food. 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.[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 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.[19]

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

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 .mw-parser-output .frac{white-space:nowrap}.mw-parser-output .frac .num,.mw-parser-output .frac .den{font-size:80%;line-height:0;vertical-align:super}.mw-parser-output .frac .den{vertical-align:sub}.mw-parser-output .sr-only{border:0;clip:rect(0,0,0,0);clip-path:polygon(0px 0px,0px 0px,0px 0px);height:1px;margin:-1px;overflow:hidden;padding:0;position:absolute;width:1px}2 m (6+1⁄2 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.[20]

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 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.[21]

Asafoetida is also mentioned numerous times in Jewish literature, such as the Mishnah.[22] 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 ."[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]