Asafoetida and Galbanum (FAO, NWFP 6)

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Coppen, Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin, 1995

  • Extract from : NWFP 6. Coppen J.J.W., 1995. Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin. FAO, Rome. 142 p. (Non-Wood Forest Products, 6). on line






Asafoetida is the oleoresin exudate obtained from certain Ferula species, particularly Ferula asafoetida, which occur in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and surrounding areas. The product is one of the few examples (another one is tragacanth gum) of an exudate which is obtained by "tapping" the roots of a shrubby plant.

Asafoetida has a strong, characteristic odour (due to the presence of sulphur compounds) and extracts of "asafoetida hing" - derived from three main species (see below) - are used in spice blends and as a flavouring for meat sauces, pickles, currys and other food products. Since it is so strong in taste and odour, asafoetida is often blended with diluents such as starch and flour and sold in a compounded form.

An essential oil can be distilled from the oleoresin and finds minor use for flavouring purposes.

"Asafoetida hingra" - from two other Ferula species - are used in pharmaceutical preparations.


Galbanum is another oleoresin exudate produced from a Ferula species: Ferula galbaniflua. It is obtained from the cut stem. Extracts of the oleoresin and the distilled essential oil contain a number of sulphurous compounds and they are used to a limited extent as perfume fixatives.



Export data from the producing countries are not readily available and imports into, say, the European Community or Japan are not identifiable since they are not listed separately for asafoetida and galbanum. It is therefore extremely difficult to estimate international demand.

India is a large importer of asafoetida and imports for the years 1987/88-92/93 are shown in Table 28. Except for 1990/91, when 1 000 tonnes were imported, levels of imports have been around 500-700 tormes/year.

Although India is a net importer of asafoetida it also exports significant amounts; these exports are believed to be largely re-exports of imported material rather than originating from indigenous production. Exports for the period 1987/88-93/94, and their destinations, are given in Table 29. Middle East countries are seen to be an important destination and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait are all consistent importers; the United Arab Emirates averaged almost 50-tonnes annually.


Supply sources

Table 28 shows that Afghanistan was by far the largest supplier of asafoetida to India, averaging 525 tonnes annually outside the peak year 1990/91, when 950 tonnes were exported. Exports from both Iran and Pakistan, the only other sources of Indian imports, increased sharply in 1992/93 to about 160 tonnes and 120 tonnes respectively (compared to annual averages of about 30 tonnes and 20 tonnes, respectively, for previous years).

Iran is a source of galbanum.

Quality and prices


Tears are the purest form of the resin and these are grey or dull yellow in colour, although they sometimes darken to a reddish brown colour on storage.

The more common form is where tears have agglomerated into a solid mass, usually with fragments of root, sand and other extraneous matter present. Commercial samples are often in the form of a paste and may be very variable in quality, sometimes containing added "inert" diluents.

The chief constituents of asafoetida are "resin" (40-65%), "gum" (ca 25%) and essential oil; reasonably fresh asafoetida usually contains around 7-9% of essential oil, although it varies with origin and may be as high as 20%. A current (mid-1995) London spot price for asafoetida (no grade stated) is US$ 12/kg.


Galbanum of commerce is usually in the form of agglutinated tears, about the size of peas and orange-brown on the outside, yellowish white or blue-green inside. Like asafoetida, it is often mixed with extraneous matter and can be very variable in quality.

The major constituents are "resin" (50-70%), "gum" (ca 20%) and essential oil (5-20%).


Botanical/common names

Family Umbelliferae:


Description and distribution

Of the asafoetida-yielding Ferula species, the most important is Ferula asafoetida. The plants grow to a height of 1.5-3 m and the shrubby foliage grows annually from a perennial rootstock. The species are indigenous to parts of Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and northwest India, where they are found on the arid plains and high plateaus. They also grow in some parts of North Africa.

Ferula galbaniflua occurs in Iran and northwest India.



Just prior to the flowering stage the plants are cut above the ground and the taproot/rhizome exposed. A small quantity of "latex" exudes and this is collected every few days; exposure to the air causes the latex to form first a soft exudate and then one which is hard and discoloured. Sometimes the root is sliced every few days to produce more exudate.


The stem of Ferula galbaniflua is cut to produce an orange-yellow gummy fluid which, again, hardens on exposure to air.


No information is available on resin yields.


Further processing of the crude resin entails either blending (as mentioned for asafoetida, above), steam distillation to produce an essential oil, or preparation of an extract using an appropriate solvent. Extraction with a hydrocarbon solvent yields a "resinoid", while alcohol extraction gives an "absolute". Both types of extract are semi-solid and dark brown or red-brown in colour.


There are no other products of commercial value obtained from the plants.


In the absence of detailed knowledge on the size and trend in the markets for the two resins it is impossible to know whether the existing, wild resource is sufficient to meet demand, or whether there is scope for some production from new, cultivated sources.


  • McANDREW, B.A. and MICHALKIEWICZ, D.M. (1988) Analysis of galbanum oils. pp 573-585. In Flavors and Fragrances: A World Perspective. Proceedings of 10th International Congress of


Essential Oils, Fragrances and Flavors, Washington DC, 16-20 November, 1986. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • RAGHAVAN,B., ABRAHAM, K.O., SHANKARANARAYANA, M.L., SASTRY, L.V.L. and NATARAJAN, C.P. (1974) Asafoetida II. Chemical composition and physicochemical properties. The Flavour Industry, 5(7/8), 179-181.
  • SAMIMI, M.N. and UNGER, W. (1979) [The gum resins of Afghan asafoetida-producing Ferula species. Observations on the provenance and quality of Afghan asafoetida] (in German). Planta Medica, 36(2), 128-133.
  • SHIVASHANKAR, S., SHANKARANARAYANA, M.L. and NATARAJAN, C.P. (1972) Asafoetida - varieties, chemical composition, standards and uses. Indian Food Packer, 26(2), 36-44.


Table 28. Asafoetida: imports into India, and sources, 1987/88-1992193[1] (tonnes)
87/88 88/89 89/90 90/91 91/92 92/93
Total 715 630 492 1006 649 619
Of which from:
Afghanistan 681 574 428 956 606 337
Iran 19 27 26 30 38 165
Pakistan 13 29 34 20 5 117

Source: National statistics

  1. Year runs April-March.

Table 29. Asafoetida: exports from India, and destinations, 1987/88-1993/94[1] (tonnes)
87/88 88/89 89/90 90/91 91/92 92/93 93/94
Total 140 144 149 130 164 231 205
Of which to:
United Arab Emirates 33 39 39 31 59 46 76
Thailand 10 16 22 20 18 33 19
UK 26 3 12 11 14 22 20
USA 8 13 12 11 15 22 17
Singapore 12 11 14 16 11 18 9
Malaysia 12 14 9 11 7 18 11
Saudi Arabia 14 16 6 - 17 11 13
Oman 3 2 7 3 6 3 3
Bahrain 5 3 3 2 4 4 3
Qatar 1 1 2 1 1 3 1
Kuwait 2 1 2 1 1 1 1
Kenya 1 3 3 10 - 1 8
Canada 2 2 2 2 2 4 4
Sri Lanka 2 - 1 3 - 1 2
Germany - 7 - - - 20 -
Ethiopia 1 2 - - - - 3
Djibouti - - 3 - 1 7 3
Japan - - 7 - - 7 -

Source: National statistics

  1. Year runs April-March.