Asafoetida (Hing)

nutrition Jun 16, 2021
Spices for Indian Cooking
Photo by Aditya Kulkarni / Unsplash

According to the Ayurveda, asafoetida is considered to be one of the best spices. It reduces vata and kapha and thus it is used for balancing the vata dosha.

Asafoetida is collected in the form of gum – resin from the rhizome or tap root of plant Ferula asafoetida and allied species. The name  Asafoetida is derived from Latin, in which Asa means "resin ", and foetidus means "smelling, fetid". The Latin name ferula means "carrier" or "vehicle".

It is also known as devil's dung, asant, food of the gods, jowani badian, stinking gum, hing, hengu, ingu,  asafetida, ingo, inguva, kayam, and ting.

According to Greek mythology with the help of a related species of this plant, Prometheus brought fire to the Earth which was believed to be stolen from the Sun.
It is also believed that in the stone-age, nomad tribes might have transported fire between their camps by using the hollow stems of this plant.
In ancient Rome, it was used as a flavouring in the kitchens.

The species is native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan.
Major producing countries are Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkistan.
Ferula gum-resins are imported to India, mainly from Iran and Afghanistan.

The plant belongs to the carrot family and grows upto 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft.) in height. After four years, the plant starts yielding asafoetida. Then the stems are cut down close to the root, and a milky juice flows out. Immediately, the juice turns into a solid resinous mass. The exposed surface of asafoetida appears translucent and pearly white in colour, but it soon darkens and becomes pink and finally reddish brown. The resin is very strongly scented and tastes bitter.

While using it in the kitchen, the resin must be fried shortly in hot oil. While doing so, the resin dissolves in the hot fat and gets well dispersed in the food. The high temperature also changes the taste to a more pleasant impression.
A pea-sized amount is sufficient to flavour a large pot of food. On the other hand, powdered asafoetida  can be added without frying because it is less concentrated. "powdered asafetida" is the resin mixed with rice flour so it is less strong in taste, and very easy to use.
Powdered asafoetida loses its aroma after some years, but the resin seems to be imperishable.

The powerful, strong onion-like odour  and a bitter acrid taste of asafoetida is  due to the presence of sulphur compounds in it.

An analysis of asafoetida shows that it contains about

67.8 per cent( per 100 gms)- carbohydrates
4.0 percent – proteins
1.1 percent – fats
7.0 percent – minerals
4.1 percent - fibre
16.0 percent – moisture
40-60 per cent - resin,
25 percent - gum,
10 percent - volatile essential oil and other compounds like ash.
Its mineral and vitamin contents include phosphorus, iron, considerable amounts of calcium, and carotene, riboflavin and niacin.

Common uses

  • Asafoetida has long been used to flavour the food and it is used as a constituent of many spice mixtures.
  • It is used mainly along the coasts of south India to kill unwanted trees by boring a hole in the tree and filling the hole with asafoetida.
  • In Pennsylvania, asafoetida is commonly used to prevent illness, by storing it in a pouch on a cord and wearing it around the neck.
  • The odour of asafoetida is attractive and used as one of scent baits for catfish and pike.
  • Asafoetida is also used in repellents that are used to repel dogs, cats, and wildlife.
  • The traditional application of it is seen in Jamaica and in African American Hoodoo tradition.
  • In Jamaica, asafoetida is applied to a baby's anterior fontanel to prevent the entry of spirits through the fontanel.
  • In the African American Hoodoo tradition, asafoetida is used in magic spells as it is believed to have the power both to protect and to curse.

Medicinal uses

  • In classical Unani, and ethnobotanical literature, it has been reported that the oleo-gum-resin of Asafoetida is used as antipileptic.
  • If a child is suffering from cold, as a traditional remedy, a pungent-smelling paste of asafoetida is prepared and in a pouch, it is hung around the child’s neck.
  • Asafoetida is the best medicine for flatulence and constipation.
  • It enhances appetite, taste, and digestion.
  • It is also used for digestion problems including intestinal gas, upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and irritable colon.
  • Asafoetida is used in traditional medicine as an antimicrobial for treating respiratory disorders like chronic bronchitis, whooping cough, H1N1 "swine" flu and asthma. The volatile oil in the gum helps in treatment of asthma and hoarse throat.
  • Asafoetida is also used as a nerve stimulant for constant mental and physical fatigue with depression and also for hysteria, senselessness, convulsions.
  • It is used to restart the menstrual period if it is stopped due to some reasons.
  • To treat corn and calluses, it can be applied directly to the skin.
  • The chemical coumarin present in asafoetida is blood thinner and used to thin the blood.

Side-effects of Asafoetida

Even though, asafoetida has health benefits, too much consumption may cause side effects.
Excess consumption may cause abnormal swelling of the lips in some people. It may remain for sometime and becomes normal after a few hours. If the condition persists, or the swelling spreads to the face and/or neck, immediate medical attention is required.
Though asafoetida is used in food to prevent gastrointestinal problems, only pea-sized amounts are sufficient for a large pot of food. Too much use of it can cause stomach problems such as gas or diarrhoea and may also cause burning sensation in the stomach. Excess gas may cause blench and nausea. To avoid this problem, a light snack is taken before eating food.
Some may develop skin rashes and bumps as a side effect after consuming it, but they may subside after a few minutes. If they cause severe itching and the skin starts swelling, they should immediately contact the physician.
Excessive consumption of it may cause headache and dizziness in some people.

When we visited Utö, the most outer island of this beautiful archipelago in the place we call Finland, I allowed myself to be guided by the incredible energy of  Inca, the daughter of the family we were visiting there. She took me to a series of abandoned bunkers from the times this island was a military strategic point and there I found this graffiti that represent very well  the feeling of all that has to do with military, war, conflict and drama. 

With love from Korpo.
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor / Unsplash

Some may suffer from losing consciousness, and concentration problems. But all these side effects are only temporary.
People suffering from blood pressure problems and those who survived a paralysis or problems related to convulsions, should not consume asafoetida. Its consumption may trigger the conditions.
Asafoetida can be harmful for people with any kind of conditions related to the central nervous system.


A. Sandhya

M.Sc Zoology

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