Heeng, or Asafoetida, an essential spice in many Indian dishes, was planted for the first time in India on October 18. The cultivation of heeng started in India by its first plantation at Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, at an altitude of about 11 thousand feet above sea level. Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director CSIR-IHBT, planted the first saplings of heeng.
Heeng is one of the widely used spices in Indian cuisine, and the country consumes around 50% of the total production in the world. Despite this, the spice was not being grown in India, and the entire demand was met from imports, mostly from Afghanistan. Although there is no cultivation in the country, it is processed in India using imported raw heeng.
CSIR Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR-IHBT) has introduced six accessions of heeng from Iran through the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi, and standardized its production protocols under Indian conditions. By bringing asafoetida seeds from abroad, the institute has developed a technique to grow the plant from it.
CSIR-IHBT has selected Lahaul-Spiti district for the first time in the country to produce asafoetida as a trial. As part of the trial, asafoetida plants have been provided to only 7 farmers in the valley at present for cultivation.
Currently, around 1200 tons of raw heeng worth around Rs 600 crore is imported annually from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan. With the domestic production starting, import of Asafoetida is expected to come down in the coming years. 90% of heeng imported by India comes from Afghanistan.
Heeng is a perennial plant and it produces oleo-gum resin from the roots after five years of plantation. It can be grown in unutilized sloppy land of cold desert regions. The spice is extracted from the stem and tap root of the plant. This plant is native to the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan where it is grown in a substantial amount.