Garlic is said to have originated in Central Asia. The land around the Tien Shan mountains is called the Garlic Crescent because historians believe it is where the famous seasoning originated. Famous trading routes like the Silk Road went through the area. Traders passed through to and from the Levant, Africa and Europe. They took garlic with them and spread it in these places.
Garlic’s popularity isn’t due only to its flavor. It is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of environments. It was planted in most of the places to which traders took it and thrived much of the time. As a result, it was never as scarce as spices that grew only in Southern Asia or Africa and was never as valuable. Garlic’s ubiquity and relative affordability are partly responsible for the longstanding perception of it as a working-class seasoning.
Garlic has been in use for around 7,000 years and is one of the oldest known plant foods. Ancient Egyptians prized garlic enough that they buried Tutankhamun with garlic bulbs. They also fed garlic to laborers to build strength.
Garlic would make its way to the Mediterranean region to Greece and Rome, which began its long and storied history in Greek and Italian cuisine. Both Hippocrates and Pliny used it for its medicinal benefits. They used it to treat lung and gastrointestinal problems.
The ancient Chinese and Japanese used garlic for medicinal benefits. Garlic was believed to cure diarrhea and to help with other gastrointestinal problems. It was also considered an antidepressant. In India, garlic was used to treat heart disease.
In the early part of the 20th century, garlic was viewed as an unsuitable seasoning for refined palates. Its use was largely confined to America’s immigrant population. By the middle part of the century, garlic was on its way to becoming a staple of American cooking.
The term fresh garlic refers to the raw, unprocessed version of the spice. While minced and dried garlic both exist for convenience and to extend shelf life, fresh garlic is still considered to be the purest and most valuable form for both culinary and nutritional reasons.
Garlic flavor profile
Garlic’s flavor profile is distinctively earthy and sulfurous. Raw garlic that is also fresh will often have a little peppery heat.
Health benefits of garlic
Garlic has long had a reputation as being beneficial for health. That reputation was in large part due to compounds like:
- Vitamins: Garlic contains several B vitamins including thiamin and pyridoxine along with a modest amount of vitamin C.
- Minerals: You can get a variety of important minerals from fresh garlic including calcium, manganese and phosphorus.
- Allicin: When the amino acid alliin comes into contact with the enzyme alliinase, they form allicin. The two combine whenever fresh garlic is crushed or chopped. Allicin is a sulfur compound with powerful antioxidant benefits. Heat breaks alliinase down, so the compound is allicin comes only from raw garlic.
When used properly, garlic in your diet may treat certain health conditions or protect you from them. These conditions include:
- Cancer: Regular garlic consumption may protect against some cancers according to researchers.
- Poor immune system: Studies show that compounds in garlic can strengthen your immune system.
Most dishes that include garlic require it to be cooked. Garlic can be seen in everything from Chinese stir-fried dishes to Italian ragus. To consume fresh garlic raw, you can try using it to make a salad dressing or adding it to salsa or pesto.