Ingredient focus... garlic
A tasty superfood or smelly spice? Get the full story on this common ingredient from our nutrition expert, Jo Lewin...
An introduction to garlic...
Highly valued throughout the ages as a culinary spice, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It is a hardy perennial belonging to the liliaceae family. Other members of this family include leeks, chives, spring onions and shallots, all distinguished by their pungent aroma and flavour.
Its usage predates written history; Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5000 years ago. Legend suggests that Egyptian pharaohs prized garlic very highly and slaves building the pyramids were given a daily ration to keep them fit and strong. Throughout history, garlic has been regarded as a well-trusted remedy: during epidemics such as cholera and tuberculosis and in World War 1 where it was used as an antiseptic applied to wounds to cleanse and heal and to treat dysentery caused by the poor sanitary conditions in the trenches.
...The legend of the vampire
Throughout time, superstition has credited garlic with the ability to avert disease and evil spirits. Stories, verse and folklore claim garlic has the ability to ward off vampires. If worn around the neck or placed at the window, the plant's pungent flowers are believed to provide protection and keep vampires from entering.
The garlic bulb is the most commonly used portion of the plant, composed of 8-20 individual, teardrop shaped cloves enclosed in a white parchment-like skin. It is an excellent source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). It is also a very good source of manganese, selenium and vitamin C. In addition, garlic is a good source of other minerals, including phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper.
Many of the perceived therapeutic effects of garlic are thought to be due to its active ingredient allicin. This sulphur-containing compound gives garlic its distinctive pungent smell and taste. Luckily for us foodies, the action of chopping or crushing garlic supposedly stimulates the production of allicin, however it is thought that cooking garlic inhibits the formation of some of the perceived medicinal properties.
...If you love eating raw garlic but hate the lingering aftertaste, try chewing parsley as it works very well as a breath freshener.