It gives you really bad breath. Yup. And many stay away from using it in abundance because it just streams out of your pores like nothing else (well, curry may come close). There is nothing like the smell of someone working out, sweating, and the porous aroma of garlic that trumps the foul smell of cardiac activity funk.
I had to go there to establish why, despite it’s potency and its stifling expo-facto odor, I love me some garlic.
I’ve mentioned before how garlic is 1/3 of the Holy Trinity of Cuban cooking and what goes in our sofritos. I’m not exactly sure who established that, but I’m sure glad the pioneers of Cuban cuisine did so. My cooking experience is far better with its presence. It makes everything savory (or sweet in some cases) and simply taste that much better. Better than salt brining out the true essence of an ingredient, garlic compliments the same ingredient and offers a subtle sting that salt and pepper can’t do.
Because I love garlic so much, I thought I’d indulge us all with some history, benefits and uses of the pretty white and pearly vegetable.
GENETICS OF GARLIC
Garlic comes from a group of edible plants called Allium. Onions, shallots, chives and scallions also come from this genera. If you’ve ever cooked with any of these, you are sure to have noticed their common characteristics: leafy layers (paper, as in the case of garlic) and high in fructose sugar. Garlic grows in bulbs or “heads,” with individual sections called cloves. Garlic has the least amount of water and highest level of sugar, causing it to brown much faster when heat is applied. Its high levels of sugar also cause that sticky affect when handling raw garlic.
Have you noticed that when you cook garlic in butter, its pungency is not as strong as when you cook in hot fats like oil. Also, the finer garlic is chopped, the stronger it is. That’s because it releases sulfur compounds. If you’ve cooked mashed garlic vs. minced garlic, you may have noticed the difference in potency. When roasted, garlic is even less powerful because the sugar content caramelizes and the high heat “activates sulfur-digesting enzymes.” (The Science of Good Food)
(Pic courtesy of Wikipedia)
In essence, if you want a strong, garlicky tasting dish, mince those cloves up and really release those sulfurs. If you want to keep it mild, usesliced, mashed whole cloves or roasted garlic, in your dishes.
SOME HISTORY & BENEFITS OF EL AJO
According to ancient myth, garlic was used for medicinal purposes such as getting rid of toothaches (which I get regularly–think it’s my nervous system) and casting out evil energy. Nowadays, garlic is associated and medically linked with lowering high blood cholesterol, though a financed study by the NIH did not find that extraordinary consumption of garlic reduces cholesterol in individuals already bearing high levels. My mother, on the other hand, swears it does and has seen some decrease in her cholesterol. And, some people I know, deep into herbal therapy, have claimed that frequent consumption of raw garlic has helped improve their immune system.
I can’t say if scientifically or medically either are true, but if so, I should be healthier and stronger than Popeye, considering the amount of garlic I ingest.
STORING & COOKING WITH GARLIC
Garlic is mostly cultivated in China, the largest purveyor of the seasoning bulb, with India coming in second. In most cuisines, garlic is used to season foods and usually paired with onions. Just like the onion, the paper-like skin is removed and unused. However, in the famous Cuban dish, Yuca con Mojo, we reserve some of the paper and use it when sautéing the onions and garlic…it adds texture and a different element of aesthetic; of course we don’t eat it.
Here’s a super low budget video of me making yuca con mojo and mashing the garlic. Notice how I keep some of the paper skin at the end.
Choose from 3 different types of garlic: American, Italian and Mexican; the latter two have a milder taste and have a mauve tint to them. There is also green garlic, which is immature, meaning it’s not reached its full potency, but is still okay to cook with and eat. Harvest for green garlic is in March and May (Wikipedia). All other garlic is available year round, making it very easy for me to use in every day cooking. In our cuisine, we use it in our tomato based sauces, in our beefs, in our chicken dishes and our soups. We almost exclusively use it to do a simple seasoning mojo for chicken, fish, flank steak (and usually with lime or lemon juice and onions).
In other cuisines, like Italian, garlic is obviously used to make fresh garlic bread, marinara, crositini and other dishes. European countries have been using garlic much more than before. When I was in Monaco last Spring, the daily market at La Condamine had beautiful garlic, but very, very pricey.
When buying and storing garlic, avoid shriveled up and soft cloves, you know the ones that are ultra wrinkly and super dry skin. Shelf life is pretty decent: 8 weeks if a head is unbroken and about 5-10 days as individual cloves (though I’ve let mine sit far longer and still been able to get good taste out of them). I don’t recommend buying pre-minced and packaged garlic. Bought some once and once only from a huge warehouse and it was awful. The taste is completely sacrificed. If you don’t like all that mashing and mincing with a knife, investing in a garlic press is the way to go.
Because of the super strong odor that garlic gives off, I’d stay away from eating it everyday in excess. You don’t want to be that stinky person at the gym sweating cloves instead of excess water weight! And the breath! Oh my goodness, it could kill you if you get a good whiff of it.
Albeit those negatives properties, give me garlic in anything. Fresh, raw, cooked, minced, sliced, roasted, chopped, beat up, pressed, whatevah! I’m working on a garlic dip and will let you know how it goes! I just love me some garlic! What a wonderful addition to any food.
Don’t let the ensuing bad breath scare you. Go munch on some parsley and you’re good to go!
Here are some of my favorite dishes I’ve featured here on Flanboyant Eats, where garlic was heavy and caused some personal setbacks (well, in terms of curbing in-person meetings!)
HOW DO YOU LOVE TO USE GARLIC!!?!
*Update 3/13: This was intended to be an basic informative post on garlic: Where it comes from, its benefits and some, not all uses. There is tons more information on garlic and even some garlic varieties I didn’t touch on like pink and black (relatively new in the American market), because I’ve yet to play with them, hence will deserve their own post . Just fyi!
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.