Cooking

This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment and in pickles. Its odour, when uncooked, is so strong that it must be stored in airtight containers; otherwise the aroma will contaminate other spices stored nearby. However, its odour and flavor become much milder and more pleasant upon heating in oil or ghee, acquiring a taste and aroma reminiscent of sautéed onion and garlic.[2]

Medical applications

  • fighting flu - Asafoetida was used in 1918 to fight the Spanish influenza pandemic. Scientists at the Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan report that the roots of Asafoetida produces natural antiviral drug compounds that kill the swine flu virus, H1N1. In an article published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Natural Products, the researchers said the compounds "may serve as promising lead components for new drug development" against this type of flu.[4][5]
  • Digestion - In Thailand, and India it is used to aid digestion and is smeared on the stomach in an alcohol or water tincture known as "mahahing."[citation needed]
  • asthma and bronchitis - It is also said[by whom?] 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.[citation needed]
  • antimicrobial - Asafoetida has broad uses in traditional medicine as an antimicrobial, with well documented uses for treating chronic bronchitis and whooping cough, as well as reducing flatulence.[6]
  • contraceptive/abortifacient - Asafoetida has also been reported to have contraceptive/abortifacient activity,[7] and is related (and considered an inferior substitute to) the ancient Ferula species Silphium.
  • antiepileptic - Asafoetida oleo-gum-resin has been reported to be antiepileptic in classical Unani as well as ethnobotanical literature.[8]
  • balancing the vata - In Ayurveda, asafoetida is considered to be one of the best spices for balancing the vata dosha.[9]

Regional usages

In India, In the Jammu region, Asafoetida is used as a medicine for flatulence and constipation by 60% of locals.[10] It is used especially by the merchant caste of the Hindus and by adherents of Jainism and Vaishnavism, who do not eat onions or garlic. It is used in many vegetarian and lentil dishes to both add flavor and aroma and reduce flatulence.


History in the West

It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran, and was popular in any self-respecting classical kitchen. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India (commonly known there as Hing). It emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who after returning from a trip to north-eastern 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 that, "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 [Iranian] 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 went extinct, and Asafoetida gained in popularity, by physicians as well as cooks.[11]

After the Roman Empire fell, 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 García de Orta's European guest. Nonsense, García replies, "nothing is more widely used in every part of India, both in medicine and in cookery. All the Hindus who can afford it buy it to add to their food

 Cultivation and manufacture

 

The resin-like gum which comes from the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots is used as a spice. The resin is greyish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. 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 an herbaceous, monoecious, perennial plant of the family Umbelliferae, also called Apiaceae. It grows to 2 meters high with a circular mass of 30–40 cm leaves. Stem leaves have wide sheathing petioles. Flowering stems are 2.5–3 meters high and 10 cm 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.[12]

It may be interesting to note that assafoetida is consumed largely by those practitioners of specific forms of medidation or vegetarism whereby garlic and onion consumption are highly discouraged by virtue of their nature to excite the nervous system. For those believers, assafoedia replaces onions and garlic by taste and by content. (Source: Roshan T. T. Chikhuri, Safety and Health Consultant and Expert Facilitator in Community Health - Mauritius)



 
 
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