Garlic 101: Darling of the Kitchen, Explained

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With a history as rich as its present, the first record of people consuming garlic is in ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago. And it’s never been just about the food—ancient athletes ate garlic to boost their endurance (see Little-Known Facts). Since that time, garlic has made its mark on just about every cuisine and culture in the world. Though many people associate it heavily with Italian and Mediterranean foods, this aromatic is essential to many Asian, African, and Latin American dishes as well. Whether used to add depth to a curry dish or surprise to a dessert, or simply highlighted as a main feature on bread, garlic has charmed its way into so many of our dishes. Thankfully, this food is as good for you as it tastes—garlic is hailed for its medicinal benefits among many homeopathic professionals. So if garlic isn’t already a staple in your kitchen, come join the party!

Identification

American garlic is a white-skinned bulb about two inches in diameter and height, with a cluster of oval cloves centered off the root. The tissue paper-like skin may take on different hues, depending on the variety, ranging from a pinkish tint (like Italian or Mexican garlic) to a beige color (like elephant garlic).

Taste

Garlic is a bit of a chameleon: spicy and pungent when served raw or sautéed; creamy and slightly sweet when roasted. Adding garlic toward the end of cooking a dish makes the flavor more pronounced.

Availability

Garlic is readily available in the produce section of the grocery stores near the onions. Most grocery stores also carry dried garlic powder or flakes, refrigerated chopped garlic, garlic juice, and frozen garlic paste.

Season

Fresh garlic is typically available all year long in the US and Europe. However, its peak season throughout much of the US is late summer to early fall, so keep an eye out at your local farmers’ market during this time.

Selection

Choose fresh garlic bulbs that are firm with unbroken skin. The cloves should be in a compact cluster.

Avoid garlic that appears withered or moldy as these are signs of rotting. Also avoid garlic cloves that have sprouted; once the cloves sprout, the flavor becomes exceptionally bitter.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

The The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.

Garlic is not specifically highlighted on any list. However, its cousin, the onion, is number 6 on the Clean 15 list. So conventionally grown garlic is generally considered safe.

The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.

Storage

Keep fresh whole garlic in a dry, cool place, where it will last for weeks or sometimes months. Do not refrigerate fresh garlic, or it may sprout in just a few days.

For other types of garlic, follow the storing instructions on the packaging (for example, store chopped garlic in the refrigerator once opened). Keep an eye on the “use by” date to ensure the garlic does not turn rancid.

Preparation

To separate a garlic bulb into its individual cloves, place the bulb on a cutting board and press it with the palm of your hand. This breaks the garlic’s papery skin, and the cloves will fall away from the root. Then, peel each clove individually, snipping off the ends. There are a number of tools commercially available for removing the peel, but the simplest method is to pin the clove between the cutting board and the flat side of a chef’s knife. Then pressurize the heel of your hand down onto the knife. You’ll feel and/or hear the clove crack. Once broken, the peel will practically fall off. Once peeled, slice, chop, or mince the garlic as desired.

If there’s a green sprout in the middle, many chefs recommend removing it. The green sprout adds a bitterness most people find disagreeable. This flavor is especially pronounced in recipes where the garlic is left raw.

Nutrition Summary

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.

Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral responsible for building dense bones and teeth, muscle contractions, neurotransmitter health, and cardiovascular health.

Selenium

Although commonly described as a mineral, selenium behaves like an antioxidant, helping to reduce the number of free radicals in the body. This may aid in slowing the visible signs of aging, protecting cardiovascular health, and promoting the immune system.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Garlic has a long history of medicinal use around the world. According to traditional Chinese medicine, garlic can help ward off illness and boost immunity, aid in digestion, enhance cardiovascular health and even cure cancer. However, the efficacy of garlic in these matters is widely debated.

Garlic contains an enzyme called allicin. Researchers tried to investigate whether this enzyme was useful in treating drug-resistant bacterial infections and common colds. Unfortunately the research is inconclusive. We do know this enzyme is more present in crushed or chopped raw garlic. After garlic has been chopped, an enzyme reaction occurs which produces allicin. If you cook it right away, the allicin is deactivated. Some chefs and nutritionists recommend letting garlic sit for about five minutes after you dice, slice, or chop it before eating or cooking it. While this may or may not make your meal healthier, many suggest this measure will at least enhance the garlic’s flavor.

Little Known Facts
  1. Ancient Romans and Greeks relied on garlic to boost endurance for athletic events.
  2. Although the garlic bulb is commonly eaten, the garlic leaves and flowers are also edible.
  3. Each July, the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California celebrates all things related to the “stinking rose,” including garlic ice cream, deep-fried garlic with bacon, and garlic wine.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.