When you think of a well-stocked kitchen, up there where you rate salt, black pepper and lemon there is also garlic. We are guilty of using garlic in almost every dish that we prepare probably because it is, no doubt, a flavor powerhouse. It brings even the simplest foods to life and this makes it a staple ingredient in most of our dishes.
Garlic is a common herb related to leeks, chives and onions. It is believed that garlic originated from Siberia before spreading to other parts of the world some about 5000 years ago.
Belonging to the Liliaceae family and the Allium genus, garlic is widely used as a flavouring in cooking.
Garlic has also been used for thousands of years for its therapeutic and health benefits – used as medicine taken to help prevent and treat a wide range of diseases and conditions.
Varieties of garlic
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There are two main types of garlic:
- Softneck garlic (Allium sativum)
This is the variety that is commonly found in supermarkets and grocery stores. It produces more cloves than the hardneck variety and it has a subtle flavor.
Its name (softneck garlic) is derived from its soft, pliable stalk and its delicate papery skin.
- Hardneck garlic (Allium ophioscorodon)
While this is not as common as the softneck garlic, it boasts a bolder, spicy garlic flavor. As a plant, they have woody central stalks and can mainly be found in farmers markets.
Garlic has a unique somewhat pungent flavour that borders on spicy when it is raw and nutty when cooked.
The sulfur compounds in garlic are responsible for its flavour profile. When dried and crushed into garlic powder, it loses some of its raw acrid flavor. This makes it (garlic powder) perfect for seasoning.
Health benefits of garlic
There are a number of benefits to using garlic.
- Garlic contains compounds with potent medicinal properties
Even though garlic is a popular ingredient in cooking, throughout ancient history, it was mainly used for its health and medicinal properties, as documented by major civilizations including the Greeks, Chinese, Romans, Egyptians and Babylonians.
The sulfur compounds found in garlic enter the body through the digestive tract from where they travel all over the body to exert its potent biological effects.
- Highly nutritious
Garlic is incredibly nutritious and according to FoodData Central, one raw clove of garlic weighing about 3 grams contains:
- Manganese – 2%
- Vitamin B6 – 2%
- Vitamin C – 1%
- Selenium – 1%
- Fiber – 0.06 grams
- Decent quantities of calcium, copper, iron, vitamin B1, phosphorous and potassium
- 4.5 calories
- 0.2 grams of protein
- 1 gram carb
- Combating sickness including the common cold
Garlic supplements are known to boost the functions of the immune system. Garlic prevents and reduces the severity of common illnesses such as flu and common cold.
According to a study, daily garlic supplement was found to reduce colds by up to 63%. The average length of cold symptoms was also reduced by up to 70% from 5 days to just 1.5 days.
- Lowering blood pressure
Studies have found that garlic has significant impact on reducing blood pressure in people battling high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Improving cholesterol levels
Garlic can lower the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and in turn lower the risk of heart disease. In a study, garlic appeared to reduce cholesterol by about 10-15%.
Caution to using garlic
- Asthma patients are not encouraged to consume garlic as it may have side-effects
- Garlic should also be avoided before surgeries and medical operations
- Without consulting a doctor, you shouldn’t consume more than 2-3 garlic gloves a day
Buying and storing fresh garlic
Shopping for garlic can be a bit challenging considering that the cloves are always hidden under the outer layers so you cannot readily tell whether they are fresh or not.
To ensure you always have fresh garlic, you can use this simple practice:
- Feel the bulbs – they should be firm and plump.
- Don’t buy soft or spongy looking cloves. Also, don’t buy bulbs that are already having green shoots growing out of them.
- Store your garlic at room temperature in a dry and dark place. It should be somewhere with proper airflow such as a basket, a rack or an open bag.
Culinary uses of garlic
Garlic can be used either raw or cooked in dishes. Its strong flavour and aroma varies depending on the cooking methods.
Most commonly, garlic is normally sautéed with onions. However, it can also be roasted and spread over toast, infused into oils, or used in spice rubs. It can also be taken raw in salad dressings.
How to easily peel garlic
There are three easy steps to peel your garlic:
- Break up the head of the garlic to separate the gloves
- Put the clove on a chopping board and position your knife flat on top of the clove. Placing the heel of your other hand on the flat side of the knife facing up, smash the blade down firmly to crush the clove.
- Easily pull the loosened skin of the garlic clove and repeat the process with the remaining cloves.
Different ways to cut garlic
Depending on your cooking, there are a number of ways you can cut your garlic. Here are some of the common ways you can always consider:
Hold a peeled clove under one hand. Using a rocking motion with your knife, make thin slices.
To chop your garlic, you begin by slicing the clove. You hold the tip of the knife with one hand and use the other hand to create a rocking motion as you move the blade back and forth over the slices to roughly chop them.
To mince your garlic into fine bits, you use a two-handed chopping motion to run your knife over the garlic repeatedly. One hand on the blade, you rock it back and forth as you move it across a pile of garlic. Your minced garlic should be finer that chopped.
To grate, rub your clove up and down against a grater to make a fine mince. Grating can also be done straight into the pan while cooking. It is perfect for when you are feeling too lazy to mince.
To crash your garlic, lay the flat side of your knife over the clove. Using the heel of your other hand, smash the blade down firmly on the clove until it is crushed.
You can also get the same results if you use a garlic press.