Asafoetida: A Spice With An Unforgettable Aroma

Asafoetida is a spice consisting of the resin from a plant called Ferula that is native to Iran and Afghanistan. Hing and ferula asafoetida are two of this spice’s many other names. Alexander the Great first brought it to Europe in the belief that it would a good substitute for Cyrenaic silphium. The now-extinct silphium was used in antiquity as both a medicine and a spice. After silphium’s extinction, asafoetida would take its place despite being weaker and having a less pleasant aroma. Medicinal use of asafoetida dates back to 700 BC.

The philosopher Maimonides, who lived between 1135 and 1204 recommended its use in moderation.

The spice would lose favor in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire up to the 16th century. After that, its use was rare and usually medicinal. Today, it is almost unheard of in European cuisine but is still widely used in India.

Flavor profile of asafoetida

Asafoetida has an intense flavor and aroma that may be even more striking the first time you encounter the spice. It is worth noting that many people find its flavor deeply unpleasant, so much so that it has many pejorative names including “devil’s dung.” The name is Latin and translates literally to “stinking gum.” The aroma of the uncooked spice has been likened to spoiled garlic and even a combination of manure and cooked cabbage. However, asafoetida is one of those spices that undergoes a dramatic transformation once it is cooked. Cooking converts its flavors into a more delicate mix similar to those from shallots and leeks. It provides an umami component that would otherwise be missing from some dishes.

Health benefits of asafoetida

Asafoetida offers a variety of nutritional and medicinal benefits due to the compounds it contains. Those compounds include:

  • Minerals: Its mineral content includes high levels of calcium, phosphorus and iron. Both calcium and phosphorus are important for building strong bones while the iron is important for the transportation of oxygen by your red blood cells.
  • Ferulic acid: This phytochemical is an antioxidant, which means that it protects the body from free radical damage. It is believed that ferulic acid in the diet can help to prevent cancer, preserve bone density and prevent a variety of menopausal symptoms.
  • B vitamins: Asafoetida also contains the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin. Riboflavin is important for your body’s energy production while niacin is valuable for heart health.

You can use asafoetida to treat various health conditions such as:

  • Digestive conditions: Asafoetida has antispasmodic and carminative properties that make it effective for treating ailments of the gastrointestinal tract. You can use asafoetida to treat ailments like indigestion, constipation and flatulence.
  • Respiratory problems: Asafoetida can be used to treat asthma, bronchitis and various other respiratory issues.
  • Menstrual ailments: By boosting progesterone levels, asafoetida can relieve menstrual pain and irregular menstruation.

Common uses for asafoetida

Asafoetida is a staple spice in India and used to flavor numerous dishes including dal and various chutneys. Its use is especially common in castes that forbid the use of onions and garlic. Iranians use it in vegetarian dishes and for flavoring meatballs. There are even a few recipes that survive from Ancient Greece for which asafoetida may be used. Those recipes include Parthian Chicken, which originally called for silphium.