April was National Garlic Month – better late than never! What a pity something so good for you has such a bad reputation for bad breath. As William Shakespeare noted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.” What Shakespeare did not know, is that had he given his actors a little milk, bad breath would not have been a problem. The fat content in milk helps neutralize odors. Adding parsley, lemon or fennel to garlicky dishes can also neutralize it. Note: if you AND your romantic interest eat garlic, the smell and taste could be canceled out…
Great cooks know that it is almost impossible to create tasty dishes without this wonderful herb. There are actually several types of garlic, but most of us use the regular bulbs found in the produce section. Green garlic is immature garlic that has not had time to develop cloves. Black garlic is actually fermented, which gives a sweet and savory flavor at the same time. Elephant garlic is leek that produces large cloves. It has a much milder flavor than regular garlic. Garlic is so easy to use these days. You no longer have to buy it fresh, but can find regular garlic already chopped up in jars in the produce section of your grocery store. Be sure to refrigerate it if you use this type.
As for health, many of the benefits of garlic are continuing to be identified. The key compound in garlic that gives it its distinctive smell is called allicin. This is a powerful antioxidant which also has certain antibiotic features. One controlled study out of England showed that garlic consumption (six cloves per week) helped reduce the incidence of catching a cold.
When fresh garlic is crushed, allyl sulfide compounds (the same chemicals in rotten eggs) are released which allows blood vessels leading to the heart to dilate and supply more oxygen to the heart. This is why garlic has been touted as being “heart healthy.” Tibetan monks were at one time forbidden from eating garlic. Apparently because of its effects on circulation it is considered an aphrodisiac that stirs up passions as well. Unfortunately, processed garlic powder lacks this sulfide compound. Recent studies at the National Institutes of Health show that less than one clove a day may cut prostate cancer risk in half and other research links garlic to preventing stomach, colon and possibly breast cancer. The chemical reactions in garlic happen because of chopping, which breaks the cell walls releasing the sulfides. Heating can inactivate the critical enzymes in the chemical chain. It is recommended to crush or chop the cloves, then let them sit for 10 or 15 minutes. Once the compounds develop they are stable and can withstand heat.
I will leave you with another quote: “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” – Alice May Brock