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Hing adds special flavour to Indo-Afghan trade relations

A 30-percent increase in the price of Hing, a commonly used spice imported from Afghanistan, is changing Indo-Afghan relationships, with efforts being made to cultivate the spice in the cold desert areas of India.

August 27, 2022 / 04:01 PM IST
Khari Baoli is a street in Delhi, India known for its wholesale grocery and Asia's largest wholesale spice market/ Image : Getty Images

Khari Baoli is a street in Delhi, India known for its wholesale grocery and Asia's largest wholesale spice market/ Image : Getty Images

Asafoetida doesn't probably ring a bell for most; Indians who are well versed with the English language also prefer to refer to this spice in their native tongues. Be it Hing in Northern India or Perungayam down South in the Tamil language, the imported spice holds its place on the tongue, quite literally.

Of late this commonly used spice has become pricier at the wall street of spices;  the Khari Baoli market near Chandni Chowk. According to a report by the Business Standard the spice's price has gone up by nearly 30 percent in the last two years.

The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan has changed the relationship the two countries have shared for centuries. Naturally, this has also influenced the spice trade between the two nations.

Citing a drop in the imports, a trader from the Khari Baoli spice market told the paper, “The import of Hing from Afghanistan had dropped significantly, especially during the past one year after the Taliban takeover. Though imports have resumed, the quantity is not sufficient to meet demand,” Sidharth Batra, a spice trader, was quoted as saying in the report.

Exports from India to Afghanistan have dropped to $24 million in August 2021 after the Taliban's takeover. However, the exports have risen to $48 million this year, according to industry estimates.

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A Dollar Buisness Review report from 2017 noted that the two most common varieties of asafoetida used in India are red and white. The white asafoetida is native to Afghanistan and is water-soluble whereas the red asafoetida, found in other countries, is oil soluble. While India also sources Hing from countries like Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the spice mainly comes from Afghanistan.

The imports from Afghanistan to India have varied every month from August last year to June this year. India spent $17.6 million in June this year to acquire this spice, according to industry estimates.

The Asafoetida plant prefers cold and dry conditions for its growth, and it takes approximately five years for the plant to start producing oleo-gum resin in its roots.

While climate has historically played a villain between India's appetite and ability to grow this spice, efforts have been made by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) — Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) based at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh to promote indigenous cultivation of the spice.

Cold desert areas of India such as Lahaul and Spiti, Ladakh, and parts of Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh are suitable for the cultivation of the plant.

The institute raised the plants at the Centre for High Altitude Biology (CeHAB), a research centre of CSIR-IHBT. The seeds used for the project came from Iran. The project took place under the supervision of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources.

It will take approximately five years for the project to bear fruit (or rather, resin).
Ayush Khar
first published: Aug 27, 2022 04:01 pm
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