This one is pretty divisive, you either love it or you hate it, few people are ever really on the fence when it comes to garlic. And what many people fail to realize is that there is so much more to love and appreciate about garlic beside the mouth-tingling taste it imparts to food. Garlic actually has more to offer us then you might think.
Granted its popularity is not universal, in a lot of cultures, for example in some parts of Africa, it’s not something that is used regularly. It is however arguably one of the staple ingredients of most Asian and European cuisines. Its origins are placed somewhere in Asia and the Middle East, so it’s only fitting that it is a major component of Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. It shares a lot in common with its other onion cousins, particularly when it comes to how they affect your breath. Whether you’re a fan of garlic or not, I think everyone can agree that garlic breath is unpleasant. This is one of the reasons why a lot of people fail to fall in love with garlic. For all the flavour it adds to dishes, the pungent aroma and its lingering effects can be off-putting. But the same thing can be said about fish, it most certainly doesn’t smell like roses when it’s raw and getting the fishy smell out of your kitchen after cooking it can be a real chore. This hasn’t stopped people from enjoying fish, however, and I think the same truth holds for garlic. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but we shouldn’t let the pungent aroma deter us from consuming it.
Its use dates back thousands of years, as both a food and a medicine for many an ancient ailment. It was first cultivated in Central Asia and north-eastern Iran and it’s close relatives include the common onion, leek, chive and shallot. Garlic comes in quite a few widely cultivated varieties, such as the elephant or buffalo garlic, which as the name suggests has massive cloves. A single bulb can cover most of an adult palm. The Creole garlic, which has a distinct pink or purple colour with as many as 12 cloves in a bulb. Soft and hard neck garlic, which differ in that the hard neck has a hard fibrous stalk running through the middle of the bulb. The soft neck also has decidedly more clothes per head of garlic than the hard neck variety. They’re also garlic ramps, which are like a cross between young garlic and spring onion. People often confuse them with garlic scapes, which are an edible stalk from the garlic plant. Scapes can be enjoyed steamed or fried and have a mild garlic flavour. Though not a cultivated variety of garlic, black garlic is another way of enjoying the vegetable. It is an aged bulb of garlic whose cloves have now turned to a signature black charcoal colour. It tastes like fresh garlic when you first put it in your mouth but then it unveils a more robust flavour profile. It’s a great alternative to people who don’t like. It’s chewy and has a more fruity taste like a dried plum almost with just a faint hint of vinegar. Most people can be brought out of their “no garlic” space once they’ve been introduced to the different varieties of garlic and their different tastes and textures.
I’m not sure how many other people can relate to this but when I was a kid, I would shudder a little bit every time I heard someone talking about garlic as a remedy for something. I remember my mother having a book of natural remedies and I always secretly wanted to tear out the page about garlic. Little did I know how versatile and useful garlic is as a natural remedy. It has long been used as a treatment for colds and coughs. The use of garlic as medicine was widespread among some of the biggest civilizations in human history such as the Greek, Roman, Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations. It’s been prescribed as a treatment for many a wide range of medical conditions throughout the ages. Its antibacterial properties have been scientifically proven in modern times. Because of this, it was widely used in the treatment of infections such as pneumonia. The very fact that garlic supplements exist is testament enough to its immune system boosting function. I remember seeing my grandmother swallowing whole clothes of garlic like pills, and she told me it was for her blood pressure. Research has since corroborated this use of garlic, by just consuming about four or five cloves of garlic a day, one can, over time, reap the same blood pressure reducing benefits as from some leading drugs. One of the main compounds that are linked to garlic is allicin, it is the parent compound of various other compounds in garlic that make it so healthy. However, and quite ironically, garlic doesn’t actually come fully equipped with this super compound allicin. It does, however, come with alliin, and an enzyme alliinase. The two are kept separate and the whole clove of garlic, however when the structure of the garlic is compromised, for example when you cut or crush it, the two compounds interact to form allicin. It is also the compound responsible for the distinct aroma of garlic. It is this special chemical reaction that gives garlic some of its antimicrobial properties, so the next time you are cooking with garlic, you can chop it up first and give it a few minutes to stand and make up a whole bunch of allicin before you toss it in a pan.
Garlic has also been linked to lowering cholesterol levels, which could lower the risk of heart disease. It’s undeniably good for your heart. It also contains antioxidants, which help protect the body from the effect oxidative stress. While it should be obvious, it’s also worth mentioning that garlic is incredibly low in calories, and considering that we consume it in very low quantities, there is probably never going to be an instance of someone getting fat off of garlic. It is quite rich in vitamins C and B6 as well as the element manganese. Actually it’s got a little bit of everything in there. It’s super easy to include garlic in your diet, whether it is just as a condiment or for medicinal purposes. The classic honey and garlic combination as a cure for colds and coughs, is it tried and true remedy that most of us probably didn’t enjoy his children. Luckily there are a billion and one ways of enjoying garlic and incorporating it into your diet. As for those who still want to bring up garlic breath, I say pop a mint. There is absolutely no excuse, short of an actual allergy, to deny yourself the pleasures and benefits of garlic.