Garlic is one of the oldest spices, obtained from the homonymous plant (Allium sativum L.) but also from others of the same genus.
Origins and History –
Garlic is a bulbous plant whose first use is that of seasoning, but it is equally used for therapeutic purposes for the properties jointly attributed to it by popular science and traditions.
On the market there are numerous species and varieties of garlic: white or common which, according to the areas of origin, is also called ‘Piacentino’, ‘Piemontese’, ‘from Naples’, ‘Sicilian’, etc .; pink, with pinkish or yellowish external tunics, which is mainly grown in southern Italy and is not suitable for long conservation; red, with red-vinate internal flakes.
This plant, due to its widespread cultivation, is considered almost ubiquitous, but its origins would seem Asian, traced back to south-western Siberia, from where it quickly spread to the Mediterranean basin and already known in ancient Egypt.
Plant, as mentioned, cultivated everywhere, it seems that its properties have already been recognized by the Egyptian Ermete Trismegisto, considered the father of all sciences and author of the Smerald Table. The Pharaohs had it administered abundantly to the workers involved in the construction of the Pyramids to preserve them from intestinal diseases and infections, but also to give them greater physical resistance.
A staple food for the Jews, who were forbidden to consume it before midday, the biblical texts report that it represented one of the most felt deprivations by the chosen people during the crossing of the desert.
Over time, the cultivation of garlic extended from the Egyptian area to the entire Mediterranean basin. The Greeks used it both for therapeutic and food purposes, leading to flavoring the bread. It was punctually eaten by soldiers just before the battle raged and this strange use can be explained by the widespread belief that saw garlic a “concentrate” of power and energy that had the effect of warming the hearts by exciting the senses.
Alexander the Great dedicated the plant to the gods of the war. Aristophanes (4th century BC) writes: “Now swallow these cloves of garlic. Stuffed with garlic you will find greater ardor in fighting. ”
“I would prefer to smell of garlic! “Exclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian when, in reviewing his troops, he smelled in the air the sweet scent that a soldier gave off, in fact, the smell of garlic was better suited to a rude soldier than the smell of a perfumed essence!
The Romans, for whom the plant was sacred to Ceres (goddess of fertility), ate large quantities of it during banquets, and Pliny recommended it as a sexual stimulant “… pounded together with fresh coriander and taken in pure wine”.
In the ancient world it was also appreciated for its magical and protective faculties. From ancient Egypt, for example, numerous therapeutic and magical prescriptions have come to us that use it as the main ingredient. Reading some of them you realize how garlic was considered very effective against the snake’s poison: once bitten, to stop the fever and the poison, it was sufficient to apply a paste composed of garlic and bread on the wound. In other recipes, however, we read that it was enough to sprinkle the body with garlic in order not to be bitten, or even to prevent the snake from leaving the den, it was necessary to place a wedge outside.
In Egypt it was also thought that garlic served to keep away the shadows of the dead: they believed that they could enter the houses at night to take away newborn babies. To protect them from this terrible event, the mother prepared a sort of “magic potion” repellent for the dead that had garlic as its main ingredient, recited the ancient formula: “I made her magical protection against you … with garlic that it gives you harm, with sweet honey to men, but bitter to those who are in the afterlife ”.
Even the Romans left garlic dishes before the temples of the goddess-witch Hecate, lady of ghosts and spells.
Even in Islamic culture, although garlic is widely and willingly used in gastronomy, it is in fact forbidden to those who must then go to the mosque on Friday for the noon community prayer (ṣalāt al-ẓuhr), on the basis of tradition which recalls how the prophet Muhammad did not like his smell or that of the onion, which therefore suffers from this same “ban”.
But what is due to the belief, so rooted in the ancient world, of the magical and protective qualities of garlic?
Perhaps the origin is precisely to be found in the unpleasant smell that it emits: managing to keep people at a safe distance, why shouldn’t he have done it with the spirits of the afterlife and poisonous snakes?
Furthermore, its acrid and biting flavor closely resembled that of snake venom and since it represented something similar and related homeopathically it could also have the power to defeat it.
Garlic, an ancient amulet against everything that bites, first of all the treacherous snake and against everything that has died and returns to the world of the living to harm, closely resembles the stories of vampires typical of western folklore. The vampire is a dead man who returns in the night and like a snake bites … the only salvation, the amulet that makes the vampire go back and inexorably defeats him is once again garlic!
The beliefs of the rural civilization also considered garlic to be the “farmers’ apothecary” or the “pharmacy of the poor”. It was widely used for both external and internal use. In the first case, it was used reduced to a pulp to soften the corns, if roasted on the embers to rub the chilblains, if in fresh wedges to soothe the burning of insect bites. For internal use it was consumed fresh in order to lower blood pressure, cooked in milk as an antidote against cough. This vegetable was also connected to the cult of San Giovanni, and it was thought that buying it on the day dedicated to him would keep the misery away.
The main therapeutic properties of garlic were scientifically defined by Pasteur in 1858: antibiotic, antiseptic, balsamic, antihypertensive. However, this real panacea has a disadvantage: the antisocial smell that leaves those who take it.
Horace signals that he is not the only one to eat it, so that the loved one “will not reject kisses and run away …”.
Common sense instead recommends more prosaically to chew in preference: parsley leaves, coffee beans, anise seeds, cumin or cardamom.
Garlic is a plant with a bulb, made up of other 6-14 smaller bulbs, commonly called wedges, enclosed by a series of tunics with a pale reddish color. The leaves are hard, straight, rough to the touch, about 1 cm wide and 15 cm long. The flowers are united in umbrella, white, pinkish-white or greenish.
The characteristic smell of garlic is due to numerous organic sulfur compounds including alliin and its derivatives, such as allicin and diallyl disulfide.
Active principles –
Garlic is made up of water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibers (cellulose, pectin, mucilage). This bulb contains numerous minerals, such as arsenic, bromine, calcium, iron, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, silicon, sodium, zinc, sulfur etc., and vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, D, H.
Germ also contains garlic, a trace mineral element, which is believed to be able to strengthen the immune system; enzymes; amino acids; hormonal substances; nicotinic acid; sulfur compounds, such as alliin, metiine, isoaliin, S-allycysteine, y-glutamylcysteine, etc.
When garlic is cut, crushed or chewed, through a chemical reaction catalyzed by the enzyme allinase contained in it, allicin is formed, responsible for the typical smell. Dialylsulphide and ajoene are formed from allicin.
Allicin has an antioxidant and antimicrobial activity capable of inhibiting numerous types of bacteria.
The antimicrobial effect is due to the action of allicin on various enzymes involved in the metabolism of pathogenic microorganisms.
Properties and Uses –
The spread of garlic is probably also due to the fact that, in addition to adapting to various climates, a few square meters of land or even just a box of earth on a balcony are enough to grow it.
Once the bulbs have been collected, garlic braids are normally formed and should be kept outdoors, especially if rapid consumption is expected; they must never be kept warm in the kitchen, otherwise the bulbs could rot.
Garlic should not be stored in the refrigerator, as, in addition to altering the aroma of other foods, it loses its freshness and the wedges become softened and wrinkled.
Only in summer can it be stored in the lower part of the refrigerator.
Large quantities can be stored in the freezer, as long as the garlic is not intended for therapeutic use, since this method of storage affects the quality and quantity of its active ingredients.
Garlic has important properties also subject to countless scientific studies.
A study conducted by the University of Liverpool has revealed that a daily garlic extract supplement can reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Although it comes from popular culture, that garlic lowers the blood pressure of hypertension sufferers, a 2012 study by the University of British Columbia revealed that consuming garlic in massive doses (200 grams 3 times a day ) can slightly lower the pressure (decreasing the maximum systolic pressure of 10-12 millimeters of mercury against 6-9 of placebo).
Garlic therefore has several healing properties:
– Anthelmintic (helminths are a class of worms that can parasitize the intestine);
– Antioxidant by many compounds, such as various sulphides, selenium and vitamins of groups B and C;
– Against colds and flu;
– Anticancer (in vitro) by ajoene and disulfides;
– Anti-thrombotic also here by the ajoene with antiplatelet action;
– chelator: the sulfur compounds (in other toxic ways, such as sulfur dioxide which is formed with water) present between the garlic molecules bind stably to the mercury, lead and cadmium molecules present in the body, which in this way they are easily eliminated.
In addition, the use of finely chopped raw garlic on foods such as sauces, meat and salads is an excellent adjuvant for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia, catarrhal bronchitis, and helminthiasis, especially in children because they bring dirt to the mouth.
The consumption of garlic gives a general sense of well-being to the body for its anti-bacterial and therefore anti-infective action.
Being also an excellent digestive and diuretic stimulant it is also used in the form of an infusion (from 5 to 10 g in a liter of water) while for an antiseptic action of 10-15 g in decoction.
Among the most renowned garlic cultivars in Italy:
– Garlic of Caraglio – (aj ‘d Caraj): grown in Caraglio it is a garlic with a characteristic delicate aroma. The characteristic is given by the climate and the limestone, dolomitic and crystalline soils of the Grana Valley mountains. A Consortium for the protection and enhancement was created in 2009 and was recognized as a Slowfood presidium.
– Polesine white garlic, produced with PDO.
– Sulmona red garlic, recognized as PAT.
– Garlic of Vessalico, Slowfood presidium.
– Red garlic from Nubia, Slowfood presidium.
– Voghiera garlic, produced on the PDO.
– Garlic of Resia – Garlic from the Resia Valley has a small, reddish bulb. The bulbils have a more pronounced smell and taste than the garlics normally on the market.
– Red Garlic of Proceno, recognized as PAT; cultivated in the municipality of Proceno (VT) since ancient times, it is a garlic with an intense aroma and a strong and pleasant flavor. It has the floral scape (Tarlo).
– Aglione della Chiana, grown in the Val di Chiana.
Garlic is widely used in the kitchen as a condiment, for example as an ingredient for sauces such as bagna càuda, pesto, aioli, tzatziki. The edible part, as mentioned, are the bulbils (wedges). It is eaten raw or cooked, fresh or dry, whole, sliced, chopped, powdered. Sometimes the wedges are used to flavor the dish but are not directly consumed.
One of the oldest and most popular ingredients, garlic has reigned supreme for centuries in Mediterranean and Italian kitchens, perfuming many delicious dishes. Ideal in sautées and marinades as in some raw and cooked creams and sauces, garlic goes well with everything, meat, fish, vegetables.
This spice is indispensable in all dishes of popular origin such as fish soups, shellfish and seafood such as mussels marinara, stews, stuffed lamb, with poultry and meatloaf, always with the suggestion to use it whole and remove it before bringing on the table; rubbed on bruschetta bread, pesto and scapece dishes.
Pleasant, but not absolutely indispensable: with «trifolati» dishes such as mushrooms or kidneys, in stews, in pasta or rice sauces. With aubergines, green beans, chickpeas, artichokes, turnip greens, cabbage, agretti, fresh cherry tomatoes, pork. With breads and buns, to perfume the oil.
Acceptable in marinades with red wine for game but not recommended where there is lemon and boiled meats; not with peas, lentils, asparagus, pumpkin, radicchi, risotto, dishes with cream and amatriciana.
If you don’t want to give up a spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli pepper even on a gallant evening, at the end of the dinner chew a couple of coffee beans or fresh mint leaves. Researchers also suggest drinking a cup of green (or mint) tea, lemonade or even a glass of whole milk.
Or eat both of the same pasta (at the same time you will ensure that your guest is not a vampire).
For its consumption, first of all the internal shoot must be eliminated, which makes it difficult to digest. There are several ways to cut garlic: if you have to use it for dishes where the consistency is important, such as sauces or emulsified seasonings, peel it and finely grate it.
In the case of dishes practically based on garlic such as Piedmontese bagna caôda, Genoese pesto, Ligurian garlic, Provencal aïoli, Greek skordalia (a cream of potatoes and garlic served as meze) and tzatziki (cucumber sauce and yogurt), the best procedure is to pound the peeled garlic in the mortar and reduce it to a cream: it will retain the flavor and lose the pungent tone.
If you have to use it to sauté mushrooms or boiled vegetables in a pan, and you want their flavor to be perceived, peel a clove and chop it or reduce it to a fine julienne.
If you want to “steal” the aroma but not the strong flavor, peel a clove and crush it with the flat blade of the knife; brown it quickly in the oil without it darkening and remove it before adding other ingredients. In the case of roasts or slow cooking, leave it in the pan as well, once well cooked it will lose its typical sourness. Those most sensitive to its flavor who do not want to give up an inimitable touch of flavor, before cooking, can rub the sides of the pan or pan with a peeled, whole or cut in half wedge, without adding it to the recipe.
Garlic burns easily, especially when it is minced or sliced (small foods cook very quickly), and burnt garlic can ruin a dish. In the case of sautéed and fried, put it in the pan halfway through the recipe – not before; the sautéed vegetables will slow down cooking. If you are cooking a dish with a thick and creamy consistency, such as a pasta sauce, you can add the garlic peeled in the hot oil, lightly brown it to flavor it and then quickly pour over the liquid / creamy element to lower the temperature in the pan and prevent the garlic from burning.
As anticipated, burnt garlic spoils the dish. It is always better to add it at lower temperatures and eventually raise them, little by little. If you use it for browning only, leave it “poached”, that is, with the skin, it will burn less quickly. If you start with a pan that is too hot, the garlic will become dark and crisp in a very short time – bitter and inedible. If you prepare the roasted garlic (a whole head of garlic is cut in half, rubbed with oil and wrapped in aluminum for food, then cooked in the oven: the garlic will become sweet, creamy and spreadable) keep the temperature of the oven below 180-190 ° or the outer edges will burn before the heart has time to soften.
Once cut, garlic quickly loses its aroma and flavor: use whole wedges, even better if fresh and not dried (fresh garlic is found from late May to late July: the white varieties are kept for 6-8 months , the pink ones up to a year). Before using garlic, check that the bulbs are firm and, above all, free of sprouts, since if stored poorly it develops an unpleasant smell. Store dry garlic in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place. On the market there are special containers with holes, to keep it at its best.
Garlic powder deserves a separate mention: it is useful for preparing batters for fried foods, a mix of flavors for dry marinating meat and fish and for some sauces and dips. And it is very practical because it lasts a long time and you can forget it in the pantry: even at the last moment it is ready for use.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.