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GARLIC

Allium sativum L.

Family : Alliaceae

Description

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.

Distribution

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.

Botany

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'.

Cultivation

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 sauces.

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.

Culinary use

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.

 

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