Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the Liliaceae family –the same family of onion, leek, chives and shallot. It is also known as poor man’s treacle, clown’s treacle, stinking rose, heal-all and rustic’s treacle. Being one of the oldest known cultivated plants in the world, garlic was fed to the builders of the pyramids in ancient Egypt, found in the tomb of Tutankhaman and its medicinal value was mentioned by Hippocrates.
Botanical Characteristics of Garlic
The garlic tree is approximately 25-30 cm high and made of leaves, stalk and the bulb. The bulb is the only part that is edible and it consists of numerous cloves. Cloves are grouped together to form the bulb. Each clove is individually enclosed with a white skin and again cloves are covered with an outer layer of papery skin, keeping them together in a sac.
Origin of Garlic
Garlic is believed to have been originated from Central Asia. However, the precise details of its origins are obscure. Today it is grown in west, south and central Asia, USA, South America and North Africa.
There are two subspecies; hard-necked garlics and soft-necked garlics. The hard-necked garlics were the original garlics and the soft-necked ones were developed or cultivated over the centuries by growers from the original hard-necks through a process of selection. Soft-necked garlic is what we buy from our grocery stores. Therefore, when it comes to garlic, there are cultivars, not varieties. For more information on cultivars and garlic in general please go to this website.
Examples of soft-neck garlic are silverskin garlic and artichoke garlic. Rocambole, purple stripe and porcelain are examples of hard-necked garlic.
What to Look for When Buying Garlic
Firm bulbs that have dry outer skin. They should not be purchased once they begin to sprout. Do not buy bulbs that are soft or have powdery patches. Look for nice big ones made up of fat individual cloves –they are so much easier to peel and crush.
A bulb of garlic will keep well for several weeks in a dry kitchen. Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place and should not be refrigerated as it will only cause garlic to dry out and rot. The ideal place is either a well ventilated larder or a dry spice cupboard, away from direct sunlight. Avoid plastic containers or plastic bags as they make garlic sweat and mould. Terracotta or ceramic garlic pots can be found at shops or mesh bags and straw baskets work just as well.
Traditionally, garlic was kept in a braid or in nets that hung in the kitchens or larder. These methods allowed dry air to circulate around the bulbs and prevented from moulding and sprouting.
To preserve garlic, place peeled garlic cloves in a clean jar and fill it up with olive oil. After securing the lid keep it in the kitchen cupboard and use it when needed. This way you have both garlic oil and peeled and ready to use cloves. Do not refrigerate garlic-oil mixture as the olive oil goes cloudy.
Crushed or chopped garlic should be used straight away. If not, ether in garlic oxidises and creates a sulphuric taste.
To Crush Garlic
Garlic press: Use a good quality, sturdy garlic press with large holes. There is no need to peel the garlic if you’re using a garlic press.
Pestle and Mortar: Peel the garlic and add to however cloves. Pestle and mortar is another way of crushing garlic. Just use a little salt to help grind into a paste. In this method.
Cooking Tips for Garlic
Crushed garlic should not be stir-fried alone in oil as it tends to burn very easily and its taste turns bitter. Therefore, it is recommended to add garlic with other ingredients.
To roast garlic: Toss a few unpeeled whole or halved heads of garlic in 150ml olive or vegetable oil in a small roasting tin. Cook in a preheated oven at 220ºC degrees for 15-20 minutes or until soft. When you squeeze a bulb, it should come out meltingly soft.
Where to Use
Garlic plays a central role in Italian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Indian and Asian cuisines. I guess, it’s safe to say that it can be used in every savoury dish although I once had garlic flavoured chocolate.
Garlic combines particularly well with these ingredients:
• Bay leaves
• Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme like Simon and Garfunkel song: Scarborough Fair
• Kaffir lime leaves
• Vietnamese mint
• Curry leaves
• Coriander leaves and seeds
• Olive oil
• Fresh salad leaves
Nutritional Profile of Garlic
An average clove of garlic weighs approximately 3 grams and contains 1 gr carbohydrate, traces of protein (mainly allinase –the enzyme that converts alliin to allicin), 0.1 gr fiber, 5 mg calcium, 0.1 mg iron, 12 mg potassium, 1 mg sodium and 0.01 mg vitamin B1. 59% of a garlic clove consists of water. Generally speaking, garlic is a very good source of vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper.
Special Note on Garlic: The Bad Breath Business
Many people avoid eating garlic since it can make one’s breathe smell pretty strong. To eliminate bad smell or aftertaste, try chewing fenugreek, cardamom, fennel, or coffee bean or chlorophyll rich plants such as wheat grass or parsley. Alternatively, eat a spoonful of sunflower seeds and a sprig of fresh parsley after having a meal that contains garlic.
For those who would like to avoid the bad smell after consuming garlic may choose to take garlic tablets. These tablets are enteric-coated and they pass through the stomach and release their contents in the small intestine. This way, they don’t produce smell.