Ingredient focus... garlic
A tasty superfood or smelly spice? Get the full story on this common ingredient from our nutrition expert, Jo Lewin...
Modern research has focused on garlic's potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels and cancer. Several studies suggest that garlic makes platelets (the cells involved in blood clotting) less likely to clump together and stick to artery walls, therefore acting as an anticoagulant and so reducing the risk of heart attacks. The sulphurous compounds have also been studied for their ability to inhibit cancerous cells and block tumours by slowing DNA replication. The ability of these compounds to depress tumour cell proliferation is still being studied extensively.
Garlic may also lower blood pressure slightly, mainly through its ability to widen blood vessels.
Garlic has a long history of use as an infection fighter - against viruses, bacteria and fungi. It has been referred to as 'Russian penicillin' to denote its antibacterial properties. Some skin conditions such as warts and insect bites may respond to garlic oil, or a crushed raw garlic clove.
How to select and store
For the best flavour and maximum health benefits, buy fresh garlic. Do not buy garlic that is soft, shows evidence of decay or is beginning to sprout. Garlic in flake, powder or paste form is convenient, but it is not as good as fresh garlic. It is best stored at room temperature in an uncovered container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. Storing it in this manner will help prevent sprouting. Depending on its age and variety, a whole garlic bulb will keep fresh from 2 weeks to 2 months.
Once you break the head of garlic, it greatly reduces its shelf life to just a few days.
Garlic poses little safety issues and allergies are rare. If you are using the herb for cholesterol, have your levels checked after three months. The recommended daily amount of garlic ranges from half - one full clove per day (around 3000-6000mcg of allicin). Please note that some people may experience indigestion, intestinal gas and diarrhoea when taking high doses of garlic.
... and is great with chicken:
Garlic chicken with herbed potatoes
Try this special garlic soup (with a side of parsley!):
Cream of garlic & saffron soup
Want more? Take inspiration from our latest garlic recipes
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT, covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.