It’s April 19, Garlic Day!

Then again, in my household, every day is garlic day – I just love the taste of these pungent cloves, and the fact that it’s good for me is just another reason for celebration.

Garlic, a close relative to onions, shallots, leeks and chives, has been around for a long, long time, dating back about 7000 years, and it has been used for culinary, medicinal and religious purposes in Asia, Africa and Europe. Over the years it has spread to become a truly global herb (or vegetable, depending on your classification).

Hanging garlic to dry after harvest allows it to keep for a long time. (© All Rights Reserved)
Hanging garlic to dry after harvest allows it to keep for a long time.
(© All Rights Reserved)

From a culinary perspective, garlic, both raw or cooked, adds a distinct, pungent flavour that lifts many a dish from the ordinary to the sublime. A staple in mediterranean cooking, it is also popular in many other cooking traditions. Mixing garlic with olive oil, lemon juice and egg yolks produce aioli, a delicious, mayonnaise-like sauce traditionally served with seafood, but also used as an accompaniment to many other dishes.

An interesting, fairly recent development in garlic cuisine is ‘black garlic’ – garlic that has been subjected to an extended fermentation period under high heat. During the fermentation, melanoidin is produced, which is responsible for the garlic cloves turning black. The resultant black garlic , which has a tender, almost jelly-like texture and a rich, tangy molasses-like taste is said to contain double the antioxidants of normal garlic, while not causing the dreaded ‘garlic breath’.

The medicinal benefits of garlic is well documented. It is used to lower cholesterol levels and reduce high blood pressure, and is said to strengthen the body’s immune system and fight fatigue. It has even been credited with preventing some cancers and increasing longevity, and it has been suggested to help regulate blood sugar levels. Garlic is rich in Vitamins A, B1 and C, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as a range of amino acids.

In addition to it’s medicinal benefits, garlic has also been believed to have spiritual powers. Europeans in the Middle Ages ate garlic to ward off the Black Death, and legend has it that garlic, worn around your neck, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes, keeps vampires, werewolves and other evil spirits at bay. I suppose this means all vampires and werewolves suffer from ‘Alliumphobia’, which is the fear of garlic.

Delicious in a range of dishes, good for your health and effective at warding off evil spirits – what more can one ask for?

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I love garlic too. But it’s good to be wary of ‘superfood’ claims, which often turn out to be just pseudoscience. Our fellow blogger on WP, Skeptical Raptor, has written about some of these.

    Do garlic and other alliums get attacked by white rot (Sclerotium cepivorum) where you live? Here in Britain it can be devastating for market gardens.

    1. Yeah, I used ‘super-food’ without really thinking of the connotation the word has – I just consider garlic quite special, and this is the first word that came to mind.

      In terms of white rot – not sure, this was the first year we grew our own, and it was a very long dry summer, so we had no problems whatsoever. It would be interesting to see what might happen during a wetter season?

      1. Not a lot 😦 It’s a soil-borne fungus whose resting bodies (sclerotia) survive in soil for years – I’ve heard estimates from 4 to 20 years. There’s no cure and no successful way to eliminate it from soil. Basically, if you get it you have to grow other plants instead of alliums.

        You can try to avoid it by not bringing in diseased onions or the soil they’ve grown in. But soil can be carried on somebody’s shoe or on a bird’s foot.

        I wrote about white rot in a blog post called ‘Crop of the month: Leek’.

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