Thursday, 3 June 2010

What's Hot, What's Not! - Garlic (Allium sativum L.)

Seeing as in the last few issues of the Connections the ‘What’s hot what’s not’ section has only covered ‘what’s not’ hot, we thought it was about time to include a ‘what’s hot’ article. So what about garlic? A hot favourite and integral part of many a cuisine the world over. It is also healthy, delicious and said to ward off evil spirits, what more could you wish for?

Love it or hate it, garlic has been around for over 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. The word garlic comes from Old English garleac, meaning, "spear leek." Both the Greeks and the Egyptians used it as an ingredient in many a medicinal remedy. The Egyptians even worshipped it, clay models of garlic bulbs having been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Garlic has even been used as currency. The Vikings took garlic on their long voyages of pillaging and destruction, whilst the French used it in the 1770’s in Marseilles against the plague. Garlic has been known to stop dysentery and according to Louis Pasteur garlic has antibacterial properties.

From the garlic plant it is not only the bulb, which can be eaten, but also the leaves and the flowers. Health-wise garlic is good for you because of its two sulphur-containing antioxidants, germanium and selenium, which help to boost the immune system. Regular consumption of garlic has been found to fight cholesterol and lower blood pressure by thinning the blood. Included in a normal diet, garlic reduces the body’s production of fat and helps to break it down.

The downside to many is the smell. A raw garlic clove is sharp and spicy and is guaranteed to make your breath smell. Cooking garlic will reduce the smell and the flavour becomes more mellow and sweet. The bad breath or halitosis is caused by the sulphurous compounds in the garlic that feed on the bacteria in your mouth. To get rid of garlic breath chewing on masses of fresh parsley helps (according to some cardamom seeds help too). If you are planning a night on the town, a serious flossing session is a must as parsley between your teeth is also a turn off. For the garlic wimps there are a variety of garlic supplements available on the market, one such supplement being
Kyolic garlic.

Garlic may be delicious but there is such a thing as overkill. Many years ago I met a man whose staple diet was sardines on toast, with a layer of thinly sliced, raw garlic on top. The multiple cloves of garlic were painstakingly sliced, very thinly as a topping for the small fish, until very little of the toast remained visible. Unfortunately, parsley was not on the agenda, and the resulting pungent aroma, which followed him everywhere, meant that it was not only very difficult to stay in the same room with him for very long, but one could always tell where he had already been.

And finally, although health and taste-wise the pros far outweigh the cons, when it comes to eating garlic, if you don’t want to smell of garlic (a large pot of parsley not being to hand), the answer is not surprisingly, not to eat it!

For an interesting restaurant where they are totally passionate about garlic: The Stinking Rose. Or for a restaurant nearer to home: Garlic Queen

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #20 Summer 2008 

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