Latin name: Allium sativum
Uses: spice, herb, medicine
What is garlic?
Garlic is the bulb of a plant in the allium family, closely related to onions, leeks, and shallots. Shrouded in papery white skin, the bulbs look unassuming, but inside the cloves are flavor bombs waiting to explode. Just about every cuisine on the planet loves garlic, and it’s not a new discovery. Four thousand years ago, the Mesopotamians used it abundantly — clay tablets with recipes from that time call for garlic — making it one of the most popular seasonings of all time.
Why is garlic healthy?
Garlic contains amino acids and enzymes that can help your body build muscles and boost your gut health, respectively. The sulfur compound allicin, which gives garlic its pungent character, is also a potent anti-bacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory immunity booster.
What does garlic taste like?
Eaten on its own, raw garlic can sear your tongue and burn your throat. When cooked, the sharp pungency gives way to a mellower, mildly sweet taste and its distinctive aroma suffuses the other ingredients. The transformation occurs because heat neutralizes the sulfur compounds that give the herb its intense flavor, and maillard reactions (also known as caramelization) convert some starches to sugars.
How do I use garlic?
The more finely you chop garlic, the sharper it will be. Raw garlic makes for a potent seasoning in sauces, spreads, salads, and cold soups. To make gloriously garlicky French-style salads, cut a clove of garlic and rub it inside the bowl before you add the greens. Also, a stew or stir-fry cooked with garlic will have a more vivid flavor and therapeutic value if you drop raw garlic in just before serving.
Garlic helps all manner of pastas, meats, curries, mushrooms, and root vegetables attain greatness. Lightly sauté garlic on low to medium heat for that tastebud-tingling aroma minus the pungent punch, but be sure not to let garlic get too brown. If you haven’t yet, douse a whole bulb in olive oil, cover it in foil and roast it for the most lusciously sticky addition you can add to dips or sauces. What does garlic pair well with?Garlic loves herbs, butter, nightshades of all stripes (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes), and mushrooms.Where does garlic grow? Garlic is believed to have originated in Central Asia and traveled outwards along the Silk Road to North Africa, China, South Asia, and the Mediterranean. The sturdy bulbous plant has been cultivated for thousands of years and now hundreds of varieties thrive in regions with fertile soil and plentiful sunshine. How to buy garlic:Bulbs should be firm, not soft, with cloves tightly grouped together under the papery skin. Fun garlic fact:Uncut garlic has almost no smell. Allicin, the compound that makes garlic taste and smell so good, is only produced when the cloves are cut or crushed. It’s the plant’s defense against predators and parasites. (Good thing we are made of tougher stuff!)