Indian kitchen staple Heeng or asafoetida which has never been grown locally, is now going to be cultivated in the country. Scientists from CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur have planted saplings of the condiment in Himachal Pradesh in the hope that heeng cultivation will become a standard practice in India.
Why wasn't India cultivating heeng locally?
Explaining the reason, Dr. Shekhar Mande, Director General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Delhi, said, "We began research on growing heeng locally since 2016. Heeng can only grow in very cold and certain geo-climatic regions such as Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti. Before dis, it was only being imported from countries like Afghanistan and Iran."
Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director, CSIR launched the programme by planting heeng saplings at Kwaring village in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.
How much heeng do Indians consume?
So far, the spice has had to be imported from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan because it was never cultivated locally. Even though India consumes 40 per cent of the world's production of heeng, worth Rs 600 crore, no efforts were made to start growing it locally. But research on how to grow it in the country began in 2016.
"The consumption of heeng is the highest in our country but it is still not produced in India. We are completely dependent on other nations for supply. About 1,200 metric tonnes of raw heeng worth Rs 600 crore is being imported from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan," Dr. Kumar said.
With seedlings of the condiment already being planted in about "5 hectares of land" in Himachal Pradesh, India now plans to "scale up" heeng's production by cultivating it "at least 300 hectares of land in the next three years," informed Dr. Mande.
With financial assistance provided by the state government amounting to Rs 4 crore, IHBT has established a tissue culture lab that can quickly grow lakhs of saplings.
How will heeng be cultivated in India?
A team of scientists from CSIR-IHBT persistently worked to introduce heeng in India. The institute introduced six accessions of seeds from Iran via ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (ICAR-NBPGR), New Delhi in October 2018.
ICAR-NBPGR substantiated that this is the first attempt in the past 30 years to introduce heeng in the country.
CSIR-IHBT raised the condiment's plants at CeHAB, Ribling, Lahaul Spiti, under the surveillance of NBPGR. The plant needs dry and cold conditions to grow and takes around five years for production of oleo gum resin, which it stores in its roots.
Thus, cold desert areas of Himalayan region provide suitable climatic conditions for heeng to grow. Asafoetida is one of the top spice crops and is a high-value condiment in India. It has a strong, sharp odour, but a pinch of heeng can bring out the delicious flavour, especially in vegetarian dishes.
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