Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.
– Alice May Brock
Etymology: From the Old English garleac or garlec, with gar referring to the spear shape of
the clove, and leac, meaning “leek.”
Area of Origin: The high plains in West and Central Asia
Garlic is a member of the lily family and a close relative of the onion, shallot, leek and chive, and is oft referred to as the “stinking rose.” It grows underground in bulb formation, with each bulb consisting of small sections called cloves, which are each surrounded by a membrane made of parchment-like material. Garlic is a healthy food, filled with amino acids, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamins A and C. It is quite popular in the United States – Americans are thought to consume around eighty million pounds of fresh garlic each year, and celebrate it by holding yearly garlic festivals throughout the country such as the Gilroy Garlic Festival, held each summer outside of San Francisco in the self-proclaimed “Garlic Capital of the World,” and in New York’s Hudson Valley. Today, garlic is grown mainly in the United States, Italy, Spain, Mexico and France.
Garlic is believed to have spread throughout Asia in the hands of nomadic tribes arriving in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. Since man began using it, garlic has always been considered both a food and a source of health. It has almost always been considered to have protective powers, as people used it to ward off sickness and evil (most famously in the form of vampires) throughout the ages. By 1500 B.C. the Egyptians recognized garlic as a remedy for over 20 sicknesses, including headaches, worms and heart ailments. The Egyptians also believed in the strengthening powers of garlic, and fed it to their slaves to keep their stamina levels high while building the great pyramids.
In ancient Greece and Rome garlic continued to be prized for its curative properties, noted for its ability to treat bladder infections, dog bites and asthma, and during the Middle Ages was used as a preventative measure against the plague. These health beliefs about garlic are not simply old wives’ tales: As early as 1858, research by Louis Pasteur showed that garlic had bacteria-killing abilities, and during World War II, garlic was used to disinfect open wounds when antiseptic drugs were not readily available. Today, research is being conducted all over the world to determine garlic’s specific healthful properties in curing and preventing a wide range of illnesses.
Of course, beyond simply warding off sicknesses and evil, garlic is also widely thought of as a surefire way to ward off potential suitors. Experts suggest chewing fennel seeds or parsley to lessen the effects of garlic breath. (Note that our forum poll has put the subject to a group discussion.)
Types of Garlic
Garlic can be found growing both wild and cultivated. It is usually classified into two main groups: hardneck and softneck. All wild garlic is hardneck, and domesticated garlic can be either hardneck or softneck. Hardneck garlic is well suited to grow in Mexico, California and South America, and is often purple in color with a stronger flavor than softneck garlic. Softneck garlic, also called Italian garlic, is usually tan, white, or slightly purplish, and can be cultivated to contain many or few cloves. A third type of garlic, elephant garlic, is not actually a true garlic: It is actually a kind of leek with a milder flavor, and produces very large cloves (hence its “elephant-ness”), usually only about three or four per bulb.
Fresh garlic can be stored for up to eight weeks in a cool, dark place, kept in an open container away from other foods. Individual cloves, once they are broken away from the rest of the bulb, can be used for about a week.
In cooking, garlic is almost always peeled before it is used, and then it is usually chopped, pureed or crushed, which releases its essential oils. Garlic is also often roasted, which results in a milder, sweeter flavor.
Oh, what won’t we match with garlic? From savory ice cream to buttery spreads and favorite side dishes, garlic has a permanent place in our kitchen garden. Right beside the parsley.
Given its versatility, we decided to show all the ways in which garlic can be savored. We roasted it, chopped it, used it in gelato (yes, gelato), and caramelized it for a sweet taste. Indulge, and don’t forget the breath mints.
Aioli Garni (Garlic Mayonnaise with Accompaniments)
Roasted Garlic and Red Pepper Hummus
Garlic Smashed Potatoes with a Balsamic Reduction
Garlic Spiced Butter
Savory Garlic Ice Cream
Garlic Brittle Cookies
Creamy Garlic Vinaigrette
Dossier by Ava Tramer