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It has several Names
Asafetida, Assafetida, Assafoetida, Devil’s Dung, Devil’s Durt, Food of the Gods (Persian), Laser (Roman), Stinking Gum
French: assa foetida, ferulr perisque
German: Asafotida, Stinkender Asant
Indian: hing, hingu, heeng
Tamil: perunkaya, Bengali :Hing
Asafoetida gets its name from the Persian aza, for mastic or resin, and the Latin foetidus, for stinking. It is a gum that is from the sap of the roots and stem of the ferula species, a giant fennel that exudes a vile odour. Early records mention that Alexander the Great carried this â€œstink fingerâ€ west in 4 BC. It was used as a spice in ancient Rome, and although not native to India, it has been used in Indian medicine and cookery for ages. It was believed that asafoetida enhanced singers voices. In the days of the Mughal aristocracy, the court singers if Agra and Delhi would eat a spoonful of asafoetida with butter and practice on the banks of the river Yamuna.
Plant Details and it’s Cultivation
Asafoetida is grown chiefly in Iran and Afghanistan from where it is exported to the rest of the world. In India it is cultivated in Kashmir. It is a perennial fennel that grows wild to 3.6 metres (12 ft) high, in large natural forests where little else grows. It bears fine leaves and yellow flowers. The roots are thick and pulpy and also yield a similar resin to that of the stems. All parts of the plant have the distinctive fetid smell. In March and April, just before flowering, the stalks are cut close to the root. A milky liquid oozes out, which dries to form a resin. This is collected and a fresh cut is made. This procedure lasts for about three months from the first incision, by which time the plant has yielded up to two pounds of resin and the root has dried up.
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Asafoetida is a hard resinous gum, grayish-white when fresh, darkening with age to yellow, red and eventually brown. It is sold in blocks or pieces as a gum and more frequently as a fine yellow powder, sometimes crystalline or granulated.
Bouquet: a pungent smell of rotting onions or sulfur. The smell dissipates with cooking.
Flavour: on its own, extremely unpleasant, like concentrated rotten garlic. When cooked, it adds an onion-like flavour.
Hotness Scale: 0
To make and store:
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It is vital to keep asafoetida in airtight containers as its sulfurous odour will effect other foods and spices. It is most commonly available as a powder or granules that can be added directly to the cooking pot. It is also sold in lumps that need to be crushed before using. This is a very powerful spice and even in its ground state lasts well over a year if stored properly, away from light and air.
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 (7 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.
Use in minute quantities, adding directly to cooking liquid, frying in oil, or steeping in water. Asafoetida is used mostly in Indian vegetarian cooking, in which the strong onion-garlic flavour enhances many dishes, especially those of Brahmin and Jain castes where onions and garlic are prohibited. It is used mostly in south and west India, though it does not grow there. It is used in many lentil dishes (often to prevent flatulence), vegetarian soups and pickles. It is also suited to many fish dishes and some pappadums are seasoned with asafoetida.
Constituents: 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.
*Antiflatulent. Asafoetida reduces the growth of indigenous microflora in the gut, reducing flatulence. In the Jammu region of India, asafoetida is used as a medicine for flatulence and constipation by 60% of locals.
*A digestion aid. In Thailand and India, it is used to aid digestion and is smeared on the abdomen in an alcohol or water tincture known as mahahing. Assafoetida in this tincture form was evidently used in western medicine as a topical treatment for abdominal injuries during the 18th and 19th centuries, although when it came into use in the West and how long it remained in use is uncertain. One notable case in which it was used is that of Canadian Coureur des bois Alexis St. Martin, who in 1822 suffered a severe abdominal injury from an accidental shooting that perforated his right lung and stomach and shattered several ribs. St Martin was treated by American army surgeon William Beaumont, who subsequently used St Martin as the subject of a pioneering series of experiments in gastric physiology. When St Martin’s wounds had healed, there remained an open fistula into his stomach that enabled Beaumont to insert various types of food directly into St Martin’s stomach and record the results. In his account of his treatment of and later experiments on St Martin, Beaumont recorded that he treated the suppurating chest wound with a combination of wine mixed with diluted muriatic acid and 30-40 drops of tincture of asafoetida applied three times a day, and that this appeared to have the desired effect, helping the wound to heal.
*Fighting influenza: Asafoetida was used in 1918 to fight the Spanish influenza pandemic. In 2009, researchers reported that the roots of Asafoetida produce natural antiviral drug compounds that demonstrated potency against the H1N1 virus in vitro and concluded that “sesquiterpene coumarins from F. assa-foetida may serve as promising lead compounds for new drug development against influenza A (H1N1) viral infection”.
*Remedy for asthma and bronchitis. It is also said to be helpful in cases of asthma and bronchitis. A folk tradition remedy for children’s colds: it is mixed into a pungent-smelling paste and hung in a bag around the afflicted child’s neck.
An antimicrobial: Asafoetida has a broad range of uses in traditional medicine as an antimicrobial, with well documented uses for treating chronic bronchitis and whooping cough, as well as reducing flatulence.
*A contraceptive/abortifacient: Asafoetida has also been reported to have contraceptive/abortifacient activity,. It is related to (and considered an inferior substitute for) the ancient Ferula species Silphium.
*Antiepileptic: Asafoetida oleo-gum-resin has been reported to be antiepileptic in classical Unani, as well as ethnobotanical literature.
*Balancing the vata and kapha. In India according to the Ayurveda, asafoetida is considered to be one of the best spices for balancing the vata dosha. It mitigates vata and kapha, relieves flatulence and colic pain. It is pungent in taste and at the end of digestion. It aggravates pitta, enhances appetite, taste and digestion. It is easy to digest.
*Antidote for opium. Asafoetida has only been speculated to be an antidote for opium.
*Acifidity Bag. Asafoetida was approved by the US Pharmacopedia to stave off the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 that killed millions worldwide. It was placed into pouches called “acifidity bags” that were provided by drug stores to be hung around the neck to try to prevent catching the disease.
*Bait: John C Duval reported in 1936 that the odour of asafoetida is attractive to the wolf, a matter of common knowledge, he says, along the Texas–Mexico border. It is also used as one of several possible scent baits, most notably for catfish and pike.
*May also be used as a moth (Lepidoptera) light trap attractant by collectors—when mixed by approximately 1 part to 3 parts with a sweet, fruit jelly.
*Repelling spirits: In Jamaica, asafoetida is traditionally applied to a baby’s anterior fontanel (Jamaican patois mole) to prevent spirits (Jamaican patois duppies) from entering the baby 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.
*In ceremonial magick, especially from The Key of Solomon the King, it is used to protect the magus from daemonic forces and to evoke the same and bind them
The uncooked herb can cause nausea and vomiting. Using asafoetida over long periods may cause throat irritation, gas, diarrhea, and burning urination. This herb should be avoided during pregnancy. It may affect the menstrual cycle, and it is known to induce miscarriage.
Known Hazards : Do not use orally. Avoid during pregnancy as possible increased bleeding. Topical use may cause skin irritation
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The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Encylopedia of spices,
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