Garlic History 101
The word Garlic comes from Old English garleac, meaning “spear leek”. It dates back over 6,000 years, and it is native to Central Asia. Throughout ancient history, the primary use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties. The Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed it to treat all kinds of illnesses.
Egyptians worshiped garlic and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Garlic was so highly-prized, it was even used as currency.
Folklore holds that garlic repelled vampires, protected against the “evil eye”, and warded off jealous nymphs said to terrorize pregnant women and engaged maidens.
It has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region and a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Surprisingly, garlic wasn’t accepted by food snobs in the United States until the 20th century, being found almost exclusively in foreign dishes in working-class neighborhoods. But, by 1940, America had embraced garlic, finally recognizing its value as not only a minor seasoning and as a significant ingredient in recipes.
Garlic is a plant in the Allium (onion) family. It is closely related to onions, shallots, and leeks. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. There are about 10–20 cloves in a single bulb, give or take.
As mentioned above, garlic has long been known for its’ medicinal properties; however, scientists now know that most of its health benefits are caused by sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed, or chewed.
Perhaps the most famous of those is known as allicin. However, allicin is an unstable compound that is only briefly present in fresh garlic after being cut or crushed. Other compounds that may play a role in garlic’s health benefits include diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine. The sulfur compounds from garlic enter the body from the digestive tract and travel the body, exerting its potent biological effects.
Garlic is packed with vitamins and minerals like manganese, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and slight amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin B1. It’s also high in antioxidants, making it a versatile superfood.
Garlic touts many benefits, but some that I have personal experience with is that it can combat sickness, including the common cold. And eating garlic may help detoxify heavy metals in the body.
Garlic can easily be incorporated into your current diet. It complements most savory dishes, particularly soups and sauces. The strong taste of garlic can also add a punch to otherwise bland recipes.
You can now purchase Garlic in several forms, from whole cloves (my favorite) to smooth pastes to powders to dehydrated and supplements like garlic extract and garlic oil. The list goes on. I have purchased it in supplement form, but I mostly get my garlic benefits from eating it whole or in foods.
I love cooking with garlic, and I am always trying to find new ways to prepare it. I just received my proper fermenting equipment, so I will try fermenting garlic in the next week or so but until then, check out my Garlic Confit recipe. It is amazing!