One of the oldest medicinal plants, garlic has been used in many cultures as a healing plant for its antibiotic and antifungal properties and ability to ward off colds and flu.
The compound allicin that gives garlic its strong taste and smell is thought to also give it its therapeutic power. Studies have suggested it can lower blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Scientist Eric Block also discovered a compound in garlic called Ajoene, a natural blood thinner, which helps to prevent the formation of blood clots. Plus, a recent study found that it was more effective at treating food poisoning than standard drugs. Research has also shown that garlic compounds stimulate the formation of glutathione (an amino acid) that detoxifies foreign materials and is a potent antioxidant.
How I Use Garlic
It is very easy to burn garlic which will leave a bitter aftertaste in your food so how I use garlic depends on the dish.
In stir fry’s I will chop it finely before use because stir fry cookery requires you to move the food quickly around the wok making it less likely to burn. If I’m making a stir fry dish for large numbers I will chop the garlic ahead of time, place in a small container like a ramekin and cover with a small amount of vegetable oil to stop it oxidising.
In sauces, stews and bolognese I put the clove(s) in whole and unpeeled and then remove when I have a sufficient garlic flavour (the garlic should be soft). This is not something I was taught, rather it has come from cooking and learning for 40 years.
After fishing out the cooked and soft whole garlic cloves I sometimes squash them on my chopping board (if fully cooked the garlic is the consistency of a paste so it squashes easily) and then put the paste minus the skin back into the sauce or stew. So throw away your fiddly garlic presses and get better results.
When I want garlic mashed potatoes I add a couple of whole unpeeled cloves to the pot when cooking and then fish them out before mashing. Of course, you can also squash the soft garlic (removing the skin) and mash into the potatoes if you wish.
Roasting whole heads of garlic with a little olive oil salt and pepper can produce a wonderful spreadable form of garlic which is milder in taste and slightly sweet.
Photo used with permission of Adam Kapela
Black garlic is made by slowly heating whole bulbs of garlic over the course of several weeks, a process that results in black cloves. The taste is sweet and syrupy with hints of balsamic vinegar.
Black garlic originates from Asian and in Korea, black garlic was developed as a health product and it is still perceived as health supplementary food. Black Garlic is prized as a food rich in antioxidants and added to energy drinks, and in Thailand is claimed to increase the consumer’s longevity. It is also used to make black garlic chocolate.
Lots of people find as they get older that garlic repeats on them or gives them indigestion and thus give up using garlic in their diet, or even use a garlic powder in its place.
My method of using garlic cloves whole greatly reduces this and thus makes it possible to continue using fresh garlic and thus enjoy all of the health benefits.
The quality of garlic in supermarkets has greatly improved but here are some tips.
Look for dry garlic bulbs that are firm and unbroken. Buy a sensible quantity….No point buying more than 3 heads of garlic at a time if you live on your own.
Store your garlic in a cupboard that is cool and dry (not the fridge). Ideally in a ventilated jar, here is an example of what I am talking about.
Garlic, cutting boards and knives
Yes, fresh garlic will get into your cutting boards be they plastic or wooden so change your knife and board after chopping or squashing your garlic. Scrub your cutting boards before you put them into a dishwasher to remove the smell and taste. But since garlic is indeed a natural antibiotic it certainly isn’t bad for your cutting boards quite the opposite.
Please don’t use any powdered garlic, frozen garlic or a ready-made garlic paste.
Often these products have chemical additives to extend shelf life.
*Powdered garlic is often used when trying to research the truth behind the health claims. I presume this is done because powdered garlic is easily measurable and always consistent, whereas fresh garlic’s pungency can vary dependant on many factors.
Garlic is tricky to use in lab testing because it is highly unstable-its chemistry changes depending on how it is used.
However for cooking purposes you don’t need to be a chef to know that fresh is better than dried and fresh doesn’t have any hidden chemicals.
Mindell, Earl R.PH; Ph. D; Food as Medicine. New York: Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1994
The chemistry of garlic and onions by Eric Block