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It is used in many vegetarian and lentil dishes to add both flavor and aroma as well as to reduce flatulence.
It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran.
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 Garcia de Orta's European guest.
Its pungent odour has resulted in it being known by many unpleasant names; In French it is known (among other names) as merde du Diable, meaning "Devil's faeces", Penrod, an 11-year-old boy in a 1929 Booth Tarkington story set in the midwestern United States, suffers intensely for being forced to wear a bag of asafoetida on his neck and encounters a girl in the same condition.
In the "Tooth or Consequences" episode (Episode #19; October 13, 1972) of the comedy TV series Sanford and Son, Fred Sanford wears an asafoetida bag to get rid of a bad toothache.
The resin is greyish-white when fresh but dries to a dark amber color.
The spice is added to the food at the time of Chaunk / Popu/ tadka (tempering).
It grows to 2 meters high, with a circular mass of 30–40 cm leaves. 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. All parts of the plant have the distinctive fetid smell.
Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India.
It emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander the Great, who, after returning from a trip to northeastern Persia, thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed silphium of Cyrene in North Africa—though less tasty.