Garlic 101 – The Basics (REVISED)
Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used around the world for thousands of years as medicine and to flavor food of all sorts. We often think of it as an herb or spice, but botanically it is considered to be a vegetable. Garlic is a member of the allium family, so it is related to onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Although we typically focus on eating the bulb of the plant, the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots of the garlic plant are also edible.
The bulb of the garlic plant is the most used part. The bulb can be divided into portions known as cloves. Garlic cloves can be eaten raw or cooked for culinary and medicinal purposes. The cloves have a tart, spicy flavor that becomes savory and sweet when cooked. The leaves and flowers are sometimes eaten when they are young and tender.
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops, with reference dating as far back as 5,000 years ago. Garlic grows wild in Central Asia, where it is believed to have originated. Throughout history, people traveling through Central Asia harvested garlic and carried it with them to their destinations, where they began cultivating the plants. Garlic is now used and grown around the world, with China producing about 80 percent of the world’s supply, followed by India, South Korea, Egypt, and Russia.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Garlic packs a nutritional punch with good amounts of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, copper, phosphorus, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin (a carotenoid found in the retina of the eye). Garlic is very low in calories with one average clove having only about 4 calories.
Important Sulfur Compounds in Garlic and Their Medicinal Effects. When garlic is chopped, chewed, or bruised, allicin is formed. It is a type of sulfur compound that gives garlic its classic aroma, and is the active ingredient that appears to help treat so many ailments. However, it is important to know that allicin is an unstable compound and is present only for a short time after a fresh clove has been cut or crushed. Some people take odorless garlic supplements that have the allicin removed. This type of garlic is not as effective for medicinal uses. Enteric coated supplements (that contain allicin) can be used instead of the odorless capsules.
Other compounds in garlic that may play a role in its health benefits include diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine. These compounds enter the body from the digestive tract and are carried in the bloodstream all over the body exerting strong biological effects.
Garlic also contains germanium, an element that has anti-cancer properties. Garlic contains more germanium than any other herb. Garlic now tops the American National Cancer Institute’s list of potential cancer-preventative foods.
Garlic has been used to treat heart disease, various cancers, enlarged prostate, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, flu, fungal infections, oral thrush, diarrhea, and more (a LONG list!). Research has shown that garlic does help to treat many of the ailments that it’s used for. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties help in the treatment of various conditions.
In test tubes, garlic seems to kill cancer cells. Population studies suggest that those who eat more garlic are less likely to get colon, stomach, and esophageal cancers than those who do not eat garlic.
In the Iowa Women’s Health Study involving 41,000 middle-aged women, researchers found that those who regularly ate garlic in addition to fruits and vegetables, had a 35 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer than those who did not regularly eat those foods.
Important Note…Garlic can interact with some medications. If you are taking prescription drugs for any reason, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s OK to take any garlic supplements that you are considering. This is especially the case if you are taking any blood-thinning medications.
Immunity Boost. Garlic can help to protect us from illness, including the common cold. In the July-August 2001 issue of Advances in Therapy, 146 people took part in a 12 week study during the winter months of November to February. The treatment group took one allicin-containing garlic supplement a day for the duration of the study, and both groups recorded any common cold symptoms on a daily basis. The treatment group recorded significantly fewer colds than the control group. Also, the control group recorded significantly more days that they were challenged virally with longer duration of symptoms. As a result, the treatment group was less likely to catch colds and recovered faster if they did catch one. The researchers concluded that allicin-containing garlic supplements can help to prevent attacks by the common cold virus and also lesson the severity of illness if someone does become infected.
Another study reported in the June 2012 issue of Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), researchers found similar results where supplementation with aged garlic extract (2.56 grams per day) enhanced immune cell function by reducing the severity of colds and flu, and reduced the number of days sick by 61 percent.
Antimicrobial Properties. Garlic has long been associated with its benefits for helping to fight cancer, inflammation, and fungal, viral, and bacterial infections. In the July 2021 issue of the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers discussed the various antimicrobial benefits of the organosulfur compounds in garlic. Specifically, these compounds included allicin, ajoenes, and allyl sulfides. They found that these compounds exhibit a range of antibacterial properties, destroying bacterial biofilm, bacterial toxins, as well as activity against a wide range of bacteria including multi-drug resistant strains. These compounds form bonds with specific enzymes, effectively breaking down the bacterial membrane. Drug resistant bacteria have become a global threat to our health and well-being. The compounds found in garlic can help to play an important role in the fight against serious pathogens. Consuming garlic, especially raw garlic that has been freshly cut, chopped or crushed, can help improve your health and aid your immune system whenever you are fighting any type of bacterial or other microbial infection.
Reduced Blood Pressure. It is well established that high blood pressure (hypertension) can be a contributing factor to heart disease and stroke. Numerous research studies have verified that garlic supplements (in doses of 600 to 1500 mg a day) can have a significant impact on reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension. The doses found to be effective were equivalent to about four cloves of garlic per day.
Improved Cholesterol Levels. Garlic has been shown to lower total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Numerous studies have tested garlic supplements for their cholesterol-lowering ability and found that in subjects with high cholesterol, garlic supplements lowered total and LDL cholesterol by 10 to 15 percent. When tested, garlic seemed to have no specific effect on HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or triglyceride levels. Study results on the cholesterol-lowering effects of garlic are mixed, but the greatest benefit appears to come from eating raw garlic that was cut or crushed shortly before consuming it.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are extremely important in helping the body to fight free radical molecules that contribute to disease and the aging process. In numerous studies, garlic has been found to contain antioxidants that support the body’s mechanisms against oxidative damage. High doses of garlic supplements have been shown to increase antioxidant activity in humans, especially reducing oxidative stress in people with hypertension. Researchers have speculated that with the combined effects of reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, plus with its antioxidant benefits, that garlic (including aged garlic extract) may reduce the risk of brain conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Heavy Metal Removal from the Body. At high levels, the sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to protect against organ damage from toxic heavy metals. In the May 2012 issue of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, researchers reported that lead levels in the blood were reduced by 19 percent in employees who worked at a car battery plant (who had excessive lead exposure due to their work environment). The subjects were given 1200 micrograms of allicin three times a day for four weeks. The allicin also reduced many clinical signs of heavy metal toxicity, including headaches and hypertension. The allicin supplement was found to be more effective than the drug d-penicillamine (a drug given to patients to remove metals from the body).
According to Anthony William, the Medical Medium, garlic extracts toxic heavy metals from the colon and gives us a powerful immune boost. He says that garlic is most effective when consumed raw.
How to Select Garlic
Look for a solid, healthy looking bulb that is compact with taut, unbroken skin.
Avoid any bulbs that are damp or have soft spots on them. Also avoid bulbs of garlic that have a strong garlic aroma. The strong garlic smell indicates it has been handled roughly and the cloves are starting to break down, releasing allicin. A heavy, firm bulb, with little aroma and no obvious damage indicates one that is fresh and flavorful. If it feels light, it may be old and dried out.
If you see garlic that has begun to sprout, it is on the older side. It will be perfectly safe to eat, but the flavor will be sharper and less sweet than newer heads of garlic. If sprouting garlic is all you can find, buy only what you will use in a month and store it in a cool, dark place, away from heat (not next to the stove).
How to Store Garlic
Garlic keeps longest when stored at 60 to 65°F and in moderate humidity. At room temperature, whole bulbs can be kept hanging in mesh bags or in loosely woven baskets, away from heat, moisture, sunlight, and where there is good air flow.
Garlic can be kept in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. But once put in the refrigerator, it needs to be kept there until it is used. If refrigerated then removed for storage at room temperature, it will soon begin to sprout.
Leftover peeled cloves or chopped garlic will keep in the refrigerator in a small, tightly covered container. Try to use it within two or three days.
About the Different Forms of Garlic
Garlic can be purchased in different forms, including fresh bulbs, jarred minced garlic, dried granulated garlic, dried garlic powder, and even pickled and fermented garlic. Each form has its own applications. The following information helps to clarify the best uses for dried and fresh garlic.
Fresh Garlic Bulbs. Garlic bulbs are the entire head of garlic as it is grown. Each bulb contains segments (cloves) that are encased in a thin papery skin that can easily be separated from the bulb. One bulb can have anywhere from 8 to 20 cloves, depending on the species of garlic.
There are two basic types of fresh garlic that can be found in most grocery stores. Softneck varieties of garlic are the most common type of garlic found in stores. They do not have a center stalk. They often have 10 to 20 cloves. Hardneck varieties of garlic have a clearly visible, thick woody hard center stalk. They typically have 8 to 12 cloves in a bulb. The hardneck varieties of garlic are considered to be more of a delicacy than the softneck type.
Fresh garlic is suitable for roasting, being pounded into a paste, being chopped or minced into fine pieces, or being crushed with a garlic press. It may be included in any dish that calls for garlic.
Jarred Garlic. Jarred garlic may be sold minced or with whole cloves. It may be preserved in water or oil. Sometimes, jarred garlic may be packed with salt or other seasonings to help keep it fresh or impart other flavors. Most, if not all brands, of jarred garlic (whether minced or whole) have been pasteurized, which is a heat process that kills off any unwanted pathogens that may be in the food. This helps to preserve the contents of the jar, making it safe for us to eat.
Jarred garlic is usually sold in the produce section of most grocery stores. Jarred garlic will not have the same potent flavor as does fresh garlic. It will taste milder and will not impart a strong flavor to foods as would fresh garlic. This can be an advantage if you only want a subtle garlic flavor in a particular dish. Also, the pieces of jarred minced garlic will be very small and will soften easily when added to liquid ingredients in a recipe. Using jarred garlic can also be a time-saver if you are in a rush to prepare food that calls for minced garlic.
Dried Granulated (or Minced) Garlic. Dried granulated or minced garlic is minced garlic that has been preserved by drying and is often packaged in a plastic jar. It has a coarse texture, similar to that of cornmeal. It is available in the spice isle of most grocery stores. Using dried minced garlic saves time in food preparation and is often a pantry staple to have available in case you run out of fresh garlic, or if a recipe calls for dried granulated garlic. Dried granulated garlic can be added to dry rub mixtures and vegetable seasoning mixes. Also, it is commonly added to stir-fries, salad dressings, soups, stews, and sauces. Dried granulated garlic distributes well in such foods and adds garlic flavor without adding any extra moisture to the food.
Dried Garlic Powder. Garlic powder is made from garlic cloves that have been dried and ground into a fine powder. It can add an intense garlic flavor to any dish or recipe. Garlic powder is often sprinkled on popcorn, into scrambled eggs, and added to ground meats for a bold flavor.
Fermented Garlic. Fermented garlic has been used in traditional medicine around the world since antiquity. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, used garlic as medicine. It was also used medicinally by ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, and Chinese.
Fermented garlic is also known as “black garlic” and is made from fresh garlic that has been fermented. The fermentation process turns the garlic a dark color and reduces the intense flavor that it has in its raw state. Fermented garlic is described as being sweet with a chewy, jelly-like texture.
According to https://webmd.com, several studies have shown that black garlic serves numerous functions in the body, including as an antioxidant, antiallergen, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic agent.
How to Prepare Garlic
Peel away as many of the outside papery layers as possible and discard.
If cloves are tight and can’t be easily pulled free, use the ball of your hand to press and roll the garlic against your cutting board to loosen the cloves.
Slice off the end of the clove, where it was attached to the bulb. Then place the clove beneath your chef’s knife and whack the knife with your other hand; this will loosen the papery skin. Remove and discard any skins.
Start by slicing the clove. For a fine chop, hold the tip of the knife with one hand and use the other to rock the blade back and forth over your slices.
For garlic that’s almost pulverized, place a clove into a garlic press and press down until the whole clove comes through the holes.
How to Preserve Garlic
Freezing Garlic. You can freeze garlic, though some people think frozen garlic isn’t quite as good as fresh. Put peeled cloves into a food processor or blender with a little water, pulse until they are evenly minced, and then freeze the puree in ice cube trays. Another way is to spread it out in a thin (and eventually breakable) layer on a silicone sheet. Once frozen, store the cubes or pieces in an airtight container. Be sure to use it within two months for the best flavor.
Dehydrating Garlic. Fresh garlic can be dehydrated. Peel and slice the garlic, then follow your dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions for time and temperature to dry your garlic. Note that this WILL make your house have a strong garlic odor! Some people opt to put their dehydrators outside on a porch during this process to avoid having the house smell like garlic. Store dried garlic at room temperature in an airtight container.
Pickling Garlic. Pickled garlic is an easy way to mellow out the flavor while preserving your garlic until you need it. Recipes abound on the internet for pickled garlic. They are simple to follow and come in different variations that should please just about anyone’s taste preferences.
Freezing Roasted Garlic. If you have lots of garlic available, it can be roasted, then frozen. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Trim the tops off of whole heads and discard. Place each garlic bulb on a piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Wrap tightly and place it in a baking dish. Roast until the garlic is golden brown and tender, about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the bulb. Let it cool slightly, then squeeze the garlic out of their skins into ice trays. Cover and freeze. When frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or container. Label with the date and use it within 2 or 3 months for best flavor.
Cooking/Serving Methods and Tips
Fresh garlic can be roasted, sautéed, added to soups, stews, casseroles and sauces, added to pizza toppings, and added to a whole host of dishes. Also, it can be used to flavor oil, and pickled (as above). It is usually used to flavor other foods rather than eaten alone. Below are some tips on cooking with garlic.
To roast a garlic bulb, lightly grease a casserole dish with olive oil, add some clean bulbs, and bake at 350F until the bulbs are soft, usually about 45 minutes. Cut the tips off the bulbs and cloves and squeeze out the now soft flesh. If needed, freeze the garlic in an airtight freezer container. The high oil content means it never freezes hard, and you can scoop the clove contents out with a spoon as needed. Roasted garlic will keep about a week in the refrigerator.
Another way to roast garlic is to preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the top off of a bulb of garlic and place the bulb on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the bulb with oil and wrap it with the foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the bulbs are lightly browned and tender, about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the bulb.
To roast a few garlic cloves, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the garlic cloves from the bulb. Leave the skins on the cloves and add them to the hot skillet. Allow them to roast for 7 to 8 minutes, turning the cloves over every 2 minutes or so. The garlic cloves should turn golden brown, and may be charred in some areas. Remove them from the pan and allow them to cool before using. The skins should be easy to remove.
Garlic can burn easily and burned garlic is not enjoyable (it’s bitter). To keep from burning your garlic, add it toward the end of sautéing onions or other vegetables. It can be added early in the sautéing process if it’s of a short duration.
To get the most allicin from your garlic, use fresh garlic rather than jarred. Allicin dissipates within days of being stored in water, as in jarred minced garlic. Also, cutting your garlic when you’re ready to use it, then letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes will yield the most allicin it has to offer. When garlic is cut, oxygen reacts with enzymes in the garlic, which triggers the formation of allicin. Waiting that brief time from cutting to using garlic allows time for the reaction to take place.
Flavor. The more you cut garlic cell walls, the stronger the flavor will be. To get a mild garlic flavor, slice it. To get a strong flavor, crush the garlic. Coarsely chopped garlic will have a flavor in between the two.
Also, the longer your garlic cooks in with other foods, the less flavor it will impart. To get the most garlic flavor, add the garlic toward the end of cooking.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Garlic
* Add garlic to cooked vegetable dishes.
* Add minced garlic to vegetable salads.
* Add finely minced garlic to salad dressings.
* Add garlic to guacamole, salsa, and hummus.
* Add garlic to broths and soups.
* Add minced garlic to cucumber or zucchini noodles.
* Add minced garlic to baked potatoes.
* Add garlic to pizza.
* The more you cut garlic, breaking open cell walls, the stronger the flavor will be. To get a mild garlic flavor, slice it. To get a strong garlic flavor, crush the garlic. Coarsely chopping garlic will have a flavor in between the two.
* To get the most allicin from your garlic, always use fresh garlic rather than jarred. Allicin dissipates quickly when garlic is stored in water, as in jarred minced garlic. Cut your garlic and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before using it to get the most allicin. This allows time for oxygen to react with the enzymes in the garlic, triggering the formation of allicin.
* Garlic can burn easily and burned garlic tastes bitter. To keep it from burning, add garlic toward the end of sautéing onions or other vegetables. It can be added early in the sautéing process if it will be done quickly.
* It’s helpful to know that the longer garlic cooks in with other foods, the less flavor it will impart. To get the most garlic flavor, add it toward the end of cooking.
* If a recipe calls for garlic and you suddenly realize you don’t have any garlic on hand, any of the following can be used as a substitute for 1 clove of fresh garlic: 1/8 tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp dried granulated garlic, ½ tsp dried garlic flakes or instant garlic, ½ tsp garlic salt (be sure to reduce the recipe by ½ tsp of salt), ½ tsp garlic juice, ½ to 1 tsp minced shallots, ½ tsp garlic chives, ½ tsp jarred minced garlic or liquid garlic seasoning.
* 1 head or bulb of fresh garlic usually has 8 to 12 cloves. One average size clove is about ½ tsp minced garlic.
* To remove garlic smell from your fingers, rub them on stainless steel under cool running water.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Garlic
Basil, bay leaf, capers, chili pepper flakes, chives, cloves, ginger, herbs (in general), mint, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, saffron, sage, salt, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Garlic
Garlic is commonly used with meats, fish and other seafood, beans, vegetables of all types, salads, salad dressings, pasta sauces, quinoa, cheese dishes, garlic bread, and for flavoring butter. The following list may help you in developing recipes and meals including garlic.
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (in general), beef, chicken (and other poultry), chickpeas, eggs, fish, lamb, legumes (in general), lentils, meats (in general), peanuts, peas, pine nuts, pork, pumpkin seeds, tahini, tofu
Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, carrots, cauliflower, chard, chiles, eggplant, escarole, fennel, greens (bitter), kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, shallots, sorrel, spinach, squash (summer and winter), tomatillos, tomatoes and tomato sauce, yams, zucchini
Fruits: Lemon, olives, oranges
Grains and Grain Products: Bread, bread crumbs, corn, couscous, noodles (esp. Asian), pasta
Dairy and Non-Dairy Products: Butter, cheese (i.e., feta, goat, Gruyère, Parmesan, ricotta, Swiss), sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Chili pepper paste, chili pepper sauce, oil (esp. olive, sesame), salad dressings, soy sauce, stock, tamari, vinegar (esp. apple cider, balsamic, red wine, rice wine)
Garlic has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Aioli (i.e. garlic mayonnaise), American cuisine, casseroles, Chinese cuisine, curries, dips, French cuisine, Greek cuisine, Indian cuisine, Italian cuisine, Latin American cuisines, Mexican cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisines, pasta dishes, pesto, pistou, pizza, purees, salads and salad dressings, sauces, soups, Spanish cuisine, spreads, stews, stir-fries, Turkish cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Garlic
Add garlic to any of the following combinations…
Almonds + Bread Crumbs + Lemon + Olive Oil + Parsley
Basil + Olive Oil + Tomatoes
Bread Crumbs + Mushrooms + Parsley
Broccoli + Lemon
Chard + Potatoes + Rosemary
Feta Cheese + Oregano
Ginger + Parsley
Kale + Tamari
Leeks + Potatoes + Saffron [in soups and vegetable stock]
Lemon + Parsley
Olive Oil + Parsley
Olive Oil + Rosemary
Parsley + Sage
Potatoes + Rosemary
4 Tips for How to Cook with Garlic http://www.eatingwell.com/article/275955/4-tips-for-how-to-cook-with-garlic/
Creamy Roasted Garlic Potato Soup with Crispy Brussels and Chili Oil https://www.howsweeteats.com/2015/01/creamy-roasted-garlic-potato-soup-with-crispy-brussels-chili-oil/
30 Recipes for Garlic Lovers https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/recipes-for-garlic-lovers/view-all/
21 Recipes Every Garlic Lover Should Know https://www.foodnetwork.ca/everyday-cooking/photos/garlic-recipes-you-should-know/#!garlic-sauce
25 Garlic Recipes for *Garlicy* Good Dinners https://www.brit.co/garlic-dinner-recipes/
25 Garlic Recipes No One Can Resist https://insanelygoodrecipes.com/garlic-recipes/
13 Delicious Recipes That Are Heavy on Garlic https://www.thespruceeats.com/delicious-recipes-that-are-heavy-on-garlic-4800090
27 Garlic Recipes That Put Our Favorite Ingredient Front and Center https://www.delish.com/cooking/g18/garlic-recipes/
12 Great Garlic Recipes to Try https://www.acouplecooks.com/garlic-recipes/
Roasted Garlic https://www.acouplecooks.com/roasted-garlic/
Mashed Red Potatoes with Garlic https://www.acouplecooks.com/mashed-potatoes-with-kale-and-garlic/
Easy Garlic Bread https://www.acouplecooks.com/easy-garlic-bread/
Roasted Garlic (And 25 Things To Do With It) https://www.thewickednoodle.com/25-things-roasted-garlic/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.