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What Is Asafoetida? Benefits, Side Effects, and Uses

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

Asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is the dried sap — or gum resin — obtained from the roots of Ferula plants. It’s commonly dried, ground into a coarse, yellow powder, and used for either culinary or medicinal purposes (1, 2, 3).

While it’s native to Afghanistan and Iran, asafoetida is commonly used in Indian cuisine, where it’s referred to as hing (1).



As a seasoning, asafoetida is known for its strong, pungent odor, which is due to its high concentration of sulfur compounds. In fact, due to its unpleasant smell, it’s sometimes referred to as stinking gum (4).

However, when cooked, its flavor and smell become much more palatable and are often described as being similar to those of leeks, garlic, and even meat (1, 4).

In Ayurvedic medicine, hing is used to aid digestion and gas, as well as treat bronchitis and kidney stones. During the Middle Ages, some people wore the dried gum around their necks to help ward off infection and disease (4).

Still, many traditional uses of asafoetida haven’t been proven by modern science.

This article examines the benefits, downsides, and uses of asafoetida.

While research is limited, asafoetida may offer a few health benefits.

Good source of antioxidants

Asafoetida has been found to be a good source of antioxidants (1, 5, 6).

These compounds help protect your cells against potential damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. As a result, antioxidants may also help protect against chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (7, 8).

Specifically, asafoetida has been shown to contain high amounts of phenolic compounds, such as tannins and flavonoids, which are known for their potent antioxidant effects (6, 9).

While test-tube and animal studies have found asafoetida to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, more research needs to be done on its potential antioxidant effects in humans (5, 10).

Additionally, as asafoetida is used in such small amounts in cooking, it’s unclear whether culinary use of the spice provides these benefits.

May be good for digestion

One of the most common uses of asafoetida is as an indigestion aid (1).

In one 30-day study including 43 adults with moderate to severe indigestion, those taking 250-mg capsules containing asafoetida twice a day reported significant improvements in bloating, digestion, and overall quality of life, compared with a placebo group (11).

This study was funded by the company that produced the supplement, so that may have influenced the results.

Asafoetida has also been shown to help boost digestion by increasing the activity of digestive enzymes. Specifically, it may increase the release of bile from your liver, which is needed for digesting fat (1, 12).

While the spice is also frequently used to prevent or reduce gas after eating, no research currently supports this effect.

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May help reduce symptoms of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive condition that’s characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, and gas, as well as constipation, diarrhea, or both (13).

Due to its potential effects on digestion, asafoetida is thought to help reduce symptoms associated with IBS.More Information on Wikipedia

Two small studies in adults with IBS found a significant improvement in reported IBS symptoms after 2 weeks of taking asafoetida supplements. Yet, another study found that this supplement had no effect on IBS symptoms (14).

Overall, the available research is quite limited.

However, one less direct way that asafoetida may benefit people with IBS is as a substitute for onion and garlic in cooking, as it offers a similar flavor.

Onion and garlic contain high amounts of fructans, which are indigestible, fermentable carbs that may cause digestive distress in some individuals with IBS (15, 16, 17).

Other possible benefits

While studies on asafoetida are limited, early research suggests that it may have additional benefits, including:

· Antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial effects. Test-tube studies have found that asafoetida may protect against pathogens, such as various strains of Streptococcus bacteria (1, 18, 19).

· May help lower blood pressure. Asafoetida may help lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. However, research is limited to animals (1, 20).

· Potential anticancer effects. Animal and test-tube studies suggest that asafoetida may help stop the growth and spread of certain cancer cells, including breast and liver cancer (1, 21, 22).

· May protect brain health. Several animal studies have indicated that asafoetida may help safeguard against memory loss and nerve damage in the brain (23, 24).

· May ease asthma symptoms. Animal studies have shown asafoetida to have a relaxing effect on airway smooth muscles, which is important for the treatment of asthma (25, 26, 27).

· May lower blood sugar levels. One study in rats found that 22.7 mg of asafoetida extract per pound (50 mg per kg) of body weight helped reduce fasting blood sugar levels (1, 4).

While these animal and test-tube studies may be promising, human research is lacking.

It’s also worth noting that these studies use a concentrated form of asafoetida rather than the amounts typically used when cooking. As a result, culinary uses of the spice may have minimal effects.

summary

Asafoetida is rich in antioxidants and may provide multiple benefits, particularly for digestive health. However, further research in humans is necessary.

While research on the safety of asafoetida in humans is limited, the amounts of asafoetida that are typically used in cooking are thought to be generally safe.

A 30-day study in humans found that participants tolerated 250 mg twice per day well (11).

However, animal studies suggest that large doses of asafoetida may cause gas, diarrhea, anxiety, headaches, and mouth swelling. Also, a study in mice suggests possible liver toxicity at daily doses of 91 mg per pound (200 mg per kg) of body weight for 6 weeks (1, 28).

Additionally, due to a lack of research, asafoetida isn’t recommended for children or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding (1).

Because it may lower blood pressure or thin blood, people on blood pressure medications or blood thinning drugs should avoid asafoetida supplements (4).

When used as a spice, asafoetida is often mixed with either wheat or rice flour. As a result, asafoetida (or hing) products may not be gluten-free.

If you have any questions or concerns, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before trying asafoetida.

summary

When used in small amounts for cooking, asafoetida is likely safe. However, due to a lack of research, you should avoid this supplement if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Asafoetida has been used for thousands of years to flavor dishes. In fact, ancient Romans used to store it in jars alongside pine nuts to be used as a seasoning (4).

Today, ground asafoetida powder, often labeled as hing, can be found online and at some Indian grocery stores.

If you follow a gluten-free diet, make sure to look for hing powder that’s blended with rice flour instead of wheat.

In the kitchen, it’s recommended to add it to hot oil or another source of fat to help reduce its sulfurous flavor and smell.

In Indian cuisine, hing powder is often paired with other spices like turmeric or cumin to provide a savory, umami flavor to lentil- or vegetable-based dishes. In France, it’s sometimes added to steaks (4).

As a supplement, asafoetida is available in capsule form. While one study found 250 mg twice daily to be an effective dose, overall research on proper dosage is lacking (11).

summary

Asafoetida or hing powder imparts a savory, umami quality to cooked dishes. While asafoetida is also sold as a supplement, a safe and effective dose hasn’t yet been established.

Asafoetida is a dried plant sap that has been used for centuries for its potential health benefits and unique flavor.

It has been shown to be a good source of antioxidants. While limited research suggests multiple benefits — particularly for digestive health — much more human research is needed.

Still, when ground into a powder, this ingredient — also known as hing — makes a great addition to your spice cabinet. A small pinch can add a savory, umami quality to dishes like curries, lentil dal, soups, and stews.

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