Asafoetida is a dried latex that comes from the tap root of several perennial herb species. The species are native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan, but are mainly cultivated in nearby India. Asafoetida has a strong pungent odor is due to its high concentration of sulfur compounds but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor similar to leeks. Asafoetida resin, a gum-like material, is used for its perceived health benefits such as to aid in digestion and gas and treat bronchitis and kidney stones. In manufacturing, it is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and as a flavor ingredient in food and beverages. Powdered asafoetida is usually available mixed with rice powder or wheat starch and gum arabica, and is grayish-white in the beginning, and darkens to yellow, red and brown with age. Hing is another name for asafoetida.
While it is likely safe in the small amounts used in food and cooking, it is not recommended for consumption if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. It is also not recommended for infants’ or children’s consumption. It is labelled as “likely unsafe” if you are pregnant and “unsafe” for women who are breast-feeding and for infants and children.
A note on dosage level: The appropriate dose of asafoetida depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for asafoetida. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
While small doses used in cooking are generally thought to be safe for human consumption, recent study on mice suggests possible toxicity at doses greater than 455 mg per pound of body weight (Healthline, PubMed).
From a 2010 study on childhood lead poisoning and Indian Spices and Powders referenced a case where a 12-month Indian boy was referred with a blood lead level of 28 micrograms/dL and asafoetida in the home had a lead level of 0.8 micrograms/gram (Pediatrics, ResearchGate).