Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the lily family that is cultivated worldwide. The garlic bulb is the most commonly used portion of the plant and is composed of individual cloves enclosed in a white, parchment like skin.The teardrop-shaped garlic bulbs vary in size; however, they usually average around two inches/5 cm in height and two inches/5 cm in width at their widest point. Elephant garlic has larger cloves and is more closely related to the leek.
Native to Central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Its usage predates written history. Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5,000 years ago, while the Chinese have been using it for at least 3,000 years. The Ebers Codex, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to about 1550 B.C.E., mentions garlic as an effective remedy for a variety of ailments. Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Pliny cited numerous therapeutic uses for garlic. Garlic has been used throughout the world to treat atherosclerosis, coughs, dandruff, diarrhea, diphtheria, dysentery, earache, hypertension, hysteria, toothache, vaginitis, and many other conditions.
Stories, verse, and folklore, such as its alleged ability to ward off vampires, give historical documentation to garlic’s power. Sir John Harrington, in The Englishman’s Doctor, written in 1609, summarized garlic’s virtues and faults:
Garlic then hath power to save from death Bear with it though it maketh unsavory breath, And scorn not garlic like some that think It only maketh men wink and drink and stink.
Currently, China, South Korea, India, Spain, and the United States are among the top commercial producers of garlic.
Garlic Nutritional Highlights
Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B 6. It is also a very good source of manganese, selenium, and vitamin C. In addition, garlic is a good source of other minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper. A 100 gram serving provides 149 calories with 6.4 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, and 33.1 grams of carbohydrate, mostly complex, with 2.1 grams of ﬁber.
Garlic Health Benefits
It is beyond the scope of this book to detail all of the wonderful properties of this truly remarkable medicinal plant. Many of the therapeutic effects of garlic are thought to be due to its volatile factors, which are composed of the sulphur-containing compounds allicin, diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulphide, and others. Additional constituents of garlic include other sulphur-containing compounds; high concentrations of trace minerals, particularly selenium and germanium; glucosinolates; and enzymes. Chopping or crushing garlic stimulates the enzymatic process that converts the phytochemical alliin into allicin, a compound to which many of garlic’s health beneﬁts are attributed. The compound allicin is also mainly responsible for the pungent odor of garlic.
Garlic appears to provide protection against atherosclerosis and heart disease. Many studies have shown that garlic decreases total serum cholesterol levels while increasing serum HDL- cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol, often termed “good” cholesterol, is a protective factor against heart disease. Garlic has also demonstrated blood pressure-lowering action in many studies.
It has typically decreased the systolic pressure by 8 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure by 5 mm Hg in patients with high blood pressure. In a 1979 study, three populations of vegetarians in the Jain community in India that consumed differing amounts of garlic and onions were studied. Numerous favorable effects on blood lipids, as shown in Table 10.2, were observed in the group that consumed the largest quantities of garlic and onions. The study is quite signiﬁcant because the subjects had nearly identical diets, differing only in garlic and onion ingestion.
Garlic also has a long history of use as an infection ﬁghter. In fact, it has been referred to as “Russian penicillin” to denote its antibacterial properties. The antimicrobial activity is due to allicin. Allicin has been shown to be effective not only against common infections, such as colds, ﬂu, stomach viruses, and Candida yeast, but also against powerful pathogenic microbes, including tuberculosis and botulism.
Garlic also appears to offer protection against some cancers. For example, studies have shown that as few as two or more servings of garlic a week may help protect against colon cancer. Substances found in garlic, such as allicin, have been shown not only to protect colon cells from the toxic effects of cancer- causing chemicals but also to stop the growth of cancer cells once they develop.
The beneﬁcial effects of garlic are clearly quite extensive. Its use as a food should be encouraged, despite its odor, especially by individuals with elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Candida infections, asthma, infections (particularly respiratory tract infections), and gastrointestinal complaints.
Effects of Garlic and Onion
Consumption on Serum Lipids
Under Carefully Matched Diets
Garlic/Onion Cholesterol Triglycerides
None 208 mg/dl 109 mg/dl
10/200 grams per week 172 mg/dl 75 mg/dl
50/600 grams per week 59 mg/dl 52 mg/dl
How to Select and Store Garlic
For best ﬂavor and maximum health beneﬁts, buy fresh garlic, as it is widely available. Purchase garlic that is plump, with unbroken skin. Do not buy garlic that is soft, shows evidence of decay, such as mildew or darkening, or is beginning to sprout. Garlic in ﬂake, powder, or paste form is convenient, but it is simply not as good as fresh garlic.
Fresh garlic should be stored at room temperature in an uncovered (or loosely covered) container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. Storing in this manner will help prevent sprouting, which reduces its ﬂavor and uses up the clove.
Depending upon its age and variety, a whole garlic bulbs will keep fresh from two weeks to two months. Inspect the bulb frequently and remove any cloves that appear to be dried out or mouldy. Note: Once you break the head of garlic, it greatly reduces its shelf life, to just a few days.
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Tips for Preparing Garlic
Unless you are roasting the entire bulb, when using garlic you will need to separate the individual cloves from the bulb. You will next need to separate the skin from the individual cloves. There are kitchen tools that will do this for you, or you can do it with either your ﬁngers or a small knife.
When juicing garlic, it is best to remove the garlic clove from the bulb and wrap it in a green vegetable such as parsley. This accomplishes two things:
(1) It prevents the garlic from popping out of the juicer.
(2) The chlorophyll helps bind some of the odor. It is a good idea to juice the garlic ﬁrst, as the other vegetables will remove the odor from the machine.
Quick Serving Ideas for Garlic
• Garlic, either chopped, sliced, or crushed, is a valuable addition to many foods, sauces, and soups to improve the nutritional beneﬁts as well as the ﬂavor.
• Macerate garlic in olive oil for one week and use this ﬂavored oil in dressings and marinades.
•Use two or more cloves fresh garlic, 12 ounces/350 grams canned chickpeas, 2 tablespoons sesame butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice to make a quick and easy hummus dip.
• Put the cloves from two heads roasted garlic, 3 cups cooked potatoes, and 1/2 cup olive oil together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste.
• Stuff pitted olives with pieces of garlic and serve as hors d’oeuvres or mix into salads.
Garlic poses little safety issue. Allergies to garlic are extremely rare.