Allium sativum L.
Family : Alliaceae
Garlic is one of the most popular
spices in the world. The subterranean reserve structure derived
from a leaf is the used plant part. It has a strong and characteristic
odour, which is markedly different in fresh and fried state. The
pungency of fresh garlic vanishes after cooking or frying. The name
garlic comes from the Anglo Saxon garleac in which gar, a
spear, refers to the pointed leaves and leac is a plant.
Other related words include Greek chaîos, a shepherd's crook
and maybe Sanskrit hesah, a weapon.
The origin of garlic is in Central
Asia, but cultivated all over the world, in Spain, France, Egypt,
Bulgaria, Hungary, USA, Mexico and Brazil. It features in the mythology,
religion and culture of many nations. Arab legend has it that garlic
grew from one of the devil's footprints as he left the Garden of
Eden. It is reported that in ancient Egypt, the workers who had
to build the great pyramids were fed their daily share of garlic,
and the Bible mentions garlic as a food the Hebrews enjoyed during
their sojourn in Egypt. In Europe, garlic has been a common spice
since the days of the Roman Empire, and it was extensively used
from India to East Asia even before the Europeans arrived there.
In Chinese mythology, garlic has been considered capable of warding
off the Evil Eye, the symbol of misfortune and ill fate. After the
Age of Exploration, its use spread rapidly to Africa and both Americas.
Garlic is a perennial of the lily
family. It grows to a height of about 60 cm. It has short, flat
upright leaves of 15 - 30 cm. The tall single flower stem bears
spherical head of pale pink or greenish-white blooms, often mixed
with tiny bulbils. The subterranean white-skinned bulb or corn is
subdivided into numerous 'cloves'.
It is planted in autumn in rich
soil 5-10 cm deep and harvested in summer when foliage dies down.
It is dried in sunlight or warmth and the bulbs are closely packed
and stored in a cool dry place, away from strong light.
Garlic contains a wealth of sulphur
compounds; most important for the taste is allicin (diallyl disulphide
oxide), which is produced enzymatically from alliin (S-2-propenyl-L-cysteine
sulfoxide) if cells are damaged; its biological function is to repel
herbivorous animals. Allicin is desactivated to diallyl disulphide;
therefore, minced garlic changes its aroma if not used immediately.
In the essential oil from steam destillation, diallyl disulphide
(60%) is found besides diallyl trisulphide (20%), diallyl sulfide,
ajoene and minor amounts of other di- and polysulphides.
Aroma and flavour
Garlic is used as a flavouring, vegetable
and medicinal herb that has accumulated superstitions over the centuries.
Some cuisines like salads and sauces are fond of raw garlic. In
parts of Austria, salads are prepared with vinegar, oil and squeezed
garlic, and raw garlic appears in quite a multitude of Mediterranean
Freshly grated garlic is served
in liberal amounts to spring rolls and soups in Northern Vietnam.
Raw garlic may also be pickled in vinegar or olive oil. Since some
of garlic's aroma is extracted by the liquid, pickled garlic is
usually very mild. Herbal vinegar is commonly made with one or two
garlic cloves per liter vinegar. Usage of fried or cooked garlic
is, however, much more common. On heating, the pungency and strong
odour get lost and the aroma becomes more subtle and less dominant,
harmonizing perfectly with ginger, pepper, chillies and many other
spices. Therefore, it is an essential ingredient for nearly every
cuisine of the world. Garlic products include garlic butter, purée,
dried flakes and garlic salt.
Although known to the Ancients and
probably cultivated and used as food and medicine by them, it is
likely that the uses of garlic are far more ancient yet. Today,
there is rapidly increasing world-wide interest in garlic, and the
number of scientific studies performed every year is increasing
exponentially. These studies have supported the idea that the regular
consumption of garlic can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol
levels, act as an inhibitor to the overgrowth of pathogenic organisms
in the body, such as Candida albicans, be useful as a worm medicine,
and have a number of other beneficial effects. It aids digestion
and prevent flatulence. It is considered to be beneficial in the
treatment of diabetes. Pharmaceutical preparations of garlic are
manufactured throughout Europe, some of them standardized to allicin,
one of its proven active constituents. In the U.S., garlic products
are extremely popular and are widely sold in natural food stores,
supermarkets, and pharmacies.
Medicinal and other use
Garlic is also one of the few herbs
that was and still is used in all three great healing systems of
the world--Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional
European Medicine. If one reviews the many uses ascribed to garlic
in all of these healing systems, as well as the popular uses by
the people of their respective cultures, one sees remarkable similarities.
For instance, it was considered a protective plant against evil
influences among the Hindus, Scandinavians, Greeks and Germans,
among others. In Traditional European Medicine, garlic was an important
food and medicine of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, and
Egyptians. In Coptic medicine garlic macerated in oil was prescribed
for skin diseases and to be taken after birth, as it was thought
to stimulate milk production.
Garlic was known as mahoushudha in
Sanskrit. The plant is well-known as a food and medicine of the
Hindus and is called rasona in the Raja Nirghanta. Garlic, or Suan,
was known to the ancient Chinese people from before written records.