Garlic belongs to the allium family. Close cousins include onions, leeks and chives. It has been used in Asia and Egypt for medicinal purposes since ancient times. Greek history also includes garlic as a go-to remedy.
Fast forward to 2014 and garlic is being used to treat high blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, gout, snake bite and traveler’s diarrhea. It is also consumed to support the immune system.
The active ingredient in garlic is allicin. In a laboratory setting, scientists have been able to kill E. coli, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enteritidis using fresh garlic. While used as a flavoring, food scientists are suggesting that garlic may also double as a food additive to prevent food poisoning.
Chopping or crushing the garlic clove breaks cell walls and starts a series of chemical reactions that activate the allicin compounds. But according to the late Dr. John A. Milner, who was quoted in a 2003 Eating Well Magazine, heating the garlic inactivates the allicin. The best thing to do in the kitchen to preserve the benefits is to allow the garlic to rest for 10-15 minutes between chopping/crushing and heating.
Because garlic is known to be a social repellent, many commercial garlic supplement manufacturers use aged garlic to make the capsules odorless. Unfortunately, this reduces the amount of allicin and limits the effectiveness of the supplement.
For maximum flavor and nutritional benefits, always purchase fresh garlic. Although garlic in flake, powder, or paste form may be more convenient, you will derive less culinary and health benefits from these forms.Purchase garlic that is plump and has unbroken skin. Gently squeeze the garlic bulb between your fingers to check that it feels firm and is not damp. Avoid garlic that is soft, shriveled, and moldy or that has begun to sprout. These may be indications of decay that will cause inferior flavor and texture. Size is often not an indication of quality. If your recipe calls for a large amount of garlic, remember that it is always easier to peel and chop a few larger cloves than many smaller ones. Fresh garlic is available in the market throughout the year.