Stinking gum, Food of the gods, Devil's dung, Asant, Jowani badian, Giant fennel, hing and ting
Asafoetida or Asafetida is the dried latex, oleogum or oleoresin exuded from the taproots of perennial herbs belonging to many species of the genus Ferula, of the family Umbeliferacaea. The major source is Ferula asafoetida. Other sources include Ferula alliacea Boiss. , Ferula asafoetida Linn. , Ferula communis Linn. , Ferula foetida (Bunge) Reget , Ferula ferulago Linn. , Ferula galbaniflua , Ferula hermonis Boiss. , Ferula jaeschkeana Vatke. , Ferula marmarica Asch.and Taub , Ferula narthex Boiss. , Ferula orientalis Linn. , Ferula persica Wild, Ferula rubricaulis Boiss. , Ferula schair Brosz , Ferula sumbul f. , Ferula szowilziana D.C. , Ferula tingitana Linn. (Syn. Ferula sancta Boiss) and other species of family Ferula. Two kinds of plant are found, male and female. Only the female plant produces the oleogum or asafetida.
Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Europe, North Africa and Central Asia mainly Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Turkey, West Tibet, in India at 4000 meters altitude in dry valleys of Ladakh in Kashmir and Punjab.
Forms and varieties of asafetida
Commercially Asafetida is available in three forms, tears, mass and paste. Tears are round and flattened about 5 to 30 mm in diameter and are considered to be the purest form of resin. Tears are internally milky-whitish-yellow either translucent or opaque. The tears appear grayish or dull yellow in color. When fresh tears are tough but when dried it becomes hard and brittle. There are two types of tears, one that retain it's original pale color for many years and the other that gradually darkens on storage. Mass asafetida is most widely used commercial form. It comprises of tears made into a uniform mass. Fragments of root, soil, etc. are found often mixed with the mass form. Paste form also contains extraneous matter.
The two major varieties are Hing and Hingra. Hingra is considered to be inferior in quality than Hing, due to less prominent odor. Hingra is heterogeneous in color and consistency. Asafetida is further differentiated by it’s country of origin. The varieties coming from Iran are called Irani Hing (asafetida from Iran) and those coming from Afghanistan are called Pathani Hing (Asafoetida made by Pathans). The Iran variety contains woody residues but Pathani Hing is comparatively free from wood. Hadda is a premium variety of Pathani Hing known for it’s distinct odour. Irani Hing has two varieties based on the taste, sweet and bitter. Sweet Irani Hing is collected from the horizontal cutting of the stem and is brown in color. The Bitter Irani Hing obtained from the root is transparent and it is gathered by making injuries on the root.
It is believed to have come by trade routes across Iran and Afghanistan. In Europe, it is considered to come during the conquering expedition of renowned Alexander, the Great. In western nation there was a notion that it will spoil the taste of whole food if added, until the fall of Roman Empire in about 16th century. Now a days, it is rarely used in European countries for cooking, however it is still continued to be used in many parts of Central Asia both for cooking and for medicinal purposes.
Cultivation and collection
Before flowering season of spring, the female plant generates sprouts and green foliage from the taproot. The green foliage turns yellow in about a month, then at this stage the taproot of the female plant is tapped for asafetida.
In major producing countries the resin of asafetida is obtained from carrot shaped massive roots and rhizomes of the female plant. When the plant attains the age of 4 years to 5 years and it grows 12 cm to 15 cm in girth then it is considered suitable for production of asafetida resins. Just prior to the flowering season, the cut is made very close to the crown of the upper part of the roots. The milky juice oozes out from the cut surface and starts coagulating. After few days, the coagulated matter is scrapped off and then fresh cut is made in the plant to collect more exudates. This procedure is repeated until the plant ceases to produce latex. For storage of collected resin the pits of approx. 1.8 m (length) x 1.8 m (breadth) x 2.4 m (depth) size is dug in the soil. However the size of pit may vary. The side walls of the pit are plastered with mud and the top of pit is covered with stalks of male asafetida plants, leaving an opening of about 0.3 m diameter, to pour the daily collection of sap into the pit.
The asafetida when collected in the pit is generally very thick and sticky, and can be molded into any shape by hand. It continues to mature during storage in the pit, and it is this resin made into tears or mass that is marketed as asafetida.
It is required to be dried thoroughly before packaging.
The two major processed products from asafetida are oil of asafetida and compounded asafetida. The oil does not have much commercial value. The flavouring and pharmaceutical industries use mainly alcoholic tinctures of the gum resin.
Compounded asafetida composed of asafetida from one or more origins (Irani or Pathani or both) and gum arabic, with edible starch or edible cereal flour is a ready-to-use preparation designed in particular form cooking, because natural asafetida is very strong and can not be used directly in cooking. The blending formula of compounded asafetida is a trade secret and varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- To pack White asafetida first cloth bags are used and then it is transferred in jute bags.
- To pack Dark red asafetida generally goat- or sheep-skin is used, where it develops further.
On an average the yield varies from 40 gram to approximately 1 kg of oleogum resin per plant.
- Appearance: Color of asafetida is yellowish-white changing to reddish-brown.
- Odour: Asafoetida has a pungent, intense, persistent, unpleasant, penetrating and alliaceous odour when raw, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor.
- Taste: Bitter, acid and alliaceous.
- Size: Size of the tears of asafetida is 0.5 cm to 3 cm in diameter.
According to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 as laid down by the Government of India, Hing- the superior-quality asafetida, should contain
- The total ash content not more than 15% by weight.
- Ash insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid not more than 2.5% by weight.
- Alcohol extract (with 90% alcohol) as estimated by the U.S.P.1936 Method not exceeding 12% by weight.
- and starch not more than 1% by weight.
Hingra –the inferior quality asafetida, should contain
- The total ash content not more than 20% by weight.
- Ash insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid not more than 8% by weight.
- Alcohol extract (with 90% alcohol) as estimated by the U.S.P.1936 Method not exceeding 50% by weight.
- and starch not more than1% by weight.
Compounded asafetida- the most common available form of asafetida, should contain
- The total ash content not more than 10% by weight.
- Ash insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid not more than 1.5% by weight.
- and alcohol extract (with 90% of alcohol) as estimated by the U.S.P.1936 Method not more than 5% by weight.
- Fractured surface of the asafetida on treatment with sulphuric acid turns red or reddish-brown in color.
- Asafetida gives green color, when treated with 50% nitric acid.
- It forms yellowish-orange emulsion, when triturated with water.
- When a little amount of water is used to triturate 0.5 gram of asafetida with sand and 5 ml of hydrochloric acid, and filter it. A blue fluorescence is produced when equal amount of ammonia is added to the filtrate, .
Chemical constituents of asafetida
- Asafetida consists of 4% to 20% of volatile oil, 40% to 65% of resin, 20% to 25% of gum, organic sulphur compounds and other impurities.
- Both tears and masses have the same amount of volatile oil.
- Sample analysis of asafetida resin reveals that it contains 16.67% of asaresinol ferulate, 1.33% of free ferulic acid, 1% of ether insoluble resins and 31% of gum and impurities.
- There is absence of free umbelliferone in asafetida, however it can be produced by treating ferulic acid with hydrochloric acid, which gets converted into umbellic acid. Umbellic acid so formed looses water to produce umbelliferone.
- On steam distillation of oleogum resin the oil of asafetida is obtained and it’s yield varies from 3.3% to 3.7%.
- Oil of asafetida consists of secondary butyl propanyl disulphide chiefly and other constituents are di and trisulphides, pinene and some other terpenes.
- The presence of sulphur compounds is responsible for the specific odour of the asafetida.
Adulteration of asafetida
Asafetida is generally adultrated with gum Arabic, chalk, rosin, gypsum, red clay, wheat or barley flour, slices of potato and stone to increase the weight. Compounded asafetida, which is the most common available form of asafetida is adulterated with chalk and other oleogums like galbanum, ammoniacum and colophony during processing. Officially, compounded asafetida should not contain colophony resin, galbanum resin, ammoniaccum resin or any other foreign resin, coal tar dyes or mineral pigment.
- Asafetida is used as carminative, nervine stimulant, or in intestinal flatulence.
- Asafetida helps to dissolve abscesses and acts as a purgative, promotes menstruation, destroys worms and heals wounds.
- The stem of source plant is good as a brain and liver tonic.
- The root of the source plants are known to be antipyretic.
- The gum resin is antispasmodic, anthelmintic, aphrodisiac, diuretic, expectorant, mildly laxative and a nerve tonic.
- It is a useful remedy for asthma, bronchitis, croup, flatulence, colic pain and for spasmodic movement of the bowels and infantile convulsions.
- It is also an important ingredient in medicinal preparations prescribed for controlling diarrhoea, flatulence, habitual abortion, indigestion and liver problems.
- When applied externally, it is found to be effective against ringworm , goiter and swelling of joints.
- It is an antispasmodic drug widely administered by Hakims in India for hysteria and also for nervous disorders among women and children, especially neurological diseases such as facial paralysis and other types of paralysis, including epilepsy, convulsions and tremors.
- Asafoetida also has anti-malarial properties.
- It is one of the ingredients used in ointments for wounds, lesions and ulcers.
- After dissolving in vinegar, it is applied on skin afflictions such as black spots, freckles and disfigurements. It can also be used for curing hard growth of piles.
- Asafetida acts an expectorant in chronic bronchitis and is administered with honey as an electuary in chronic cough and asthma.
- Asafetida kills germs in phlegm and is therefore taken to eliminate the foul smell associated with phlegm. It also lowers the viscosity of phlegm, promoting its expulsion.
- Modern medicine has observed that asafetida is expelled from the body through the kidneys and the skin. It stimulates these organs to encourage urination and sweating.
- It is also used in veterinary medicines.
It is reputed to affect the menstrual cycle and to be an abortifacient, its excessive use in pregnancy and lactation is to be avoided.
As flavoring agent for curries, pickles and sauces.
- Handbook of Medicinal Herbs 2nd edition.
- Pharmacognocy by C.K Kokate, A.P. Purohit, S.B. Gokhale 45th Edition
- Handbook of herbs and spices Volume 3
- The Plants Database ( United States Department of Agriculture)