Garlic is an annual herbaceous plant with underground bulbs comprising several cloves. Dried mature bulbs are used as flavouring and condiment . The bulbs contain garlic oil and organic sulphur compounds. It is said that therapeutic uses include antimicrobial, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, anti-flatulence and cholesterol lowering agents.
Garlic has long been used in many cultures for infections, worms and as an antibiotic and antiseptic. Louis Pasteur discovered its bacteria killing capacity. It was used in this capacity so well by the Russian army that it was called “Russian Penicillin”. It lowers blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and is used for bronchial and pulmonary infections. It is toxic to some cancer cells, has antifungal activity against Candida, is used as a worm remedy, as a detoxifying agent and to prevent and treat the flu. In summary, garlic reportedly has many medicinal properties, including antiseptic, and in warding off colds and flu. It probably wards off friends as well… Note that the Egyptian pyramid builders are known to have used garlic for providing and prolonging physical strength.
Flavour varies in flavour between varieties and growing conditions. The edible bulb, or “head” of garlic grows beneath the ground. The bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchment-like membrane. Wild garlic is strong in flavour, and thus less is required in recipes. Likewise, Balinese garlic cloves are considerably smaller and less pungent than many Western Garlics, and so recipes may need to be adjusted accordingly.
In Asia, it is available in different varieties, some with very white papery skin, some with pink and white skin and some creamy in colour. Choose cloves that are about 1 cm long, otherwise adjust the quantity as you will find that some cloves are up to 2.5 cm long. My rule of thumb is to adjust to the amount of garlic that you are comfortable with, depending on the strength of the garlic you are using and the relative amount required in the recipe.
Store fresh garlic in an open container away from other foods in a cool dark place. Unbroken bulbs will kept for up to 8 weeks, although I have had heads of garlic last 3 months in good conditions. Individual cloves will keep 3 to 10 days once separated from the head.
Garlic cloves can be frozen in ziplock bags. There is no need to peel, the skin will slip off easily when frozen. Freezing garlic is an excellent way to keep garlic over winter.
Another way to prolong the availability of garlic over winter, or as a boon in the kitchen, is to make garlic paste.
Garlic is usually peeled before cooking, although baking or roasting garlic heads yields a delicious way of eating garlic. To peel easily, crush a clove with the side of a wide knife and the clove can be removed easily from the skin. Crushing, shopping, pressing and pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavour than slicing or leaving it whole. A whole head of garlic can be minced in a food processor to keep on hand for instant use. Separate into cloves and cut off each end. Process one head at a time, unpeeled, then refrigerate in a covered jar. It will keep for ages. 1 teaspoon of minced garlic is the same as 1 clove.
In Indian Food
Garlic is used in most Indian cooking, although the Kashmiri Hindus and the Jain sect do not touch it and it is not included in temple food, much festival food and fasting foods. It parts of India is an important ingredient in many wet curries, where onion, garlic and ginger are ground into a paste and then fried in oil until dark and thick. In parts of Saurashtra in Western India, garlic, salt and dried red chillies are pounded together to make an every day condiment.
Often when neither onion or garlic is used, asafoetida powder is added.
In Other Cuisines
Garlic is one of the most essential ingredients in Italian cooking.
Garlic is a major produce of China and Korea. In Korea, around 0.33 of all farmers produce garlic. Some recent ongoing rivalries between China and Korea regarding garlic have been known as the Garlic Wars.
In France, garlic is used in cooking from the more Southern regions of France, but not in the Northern regions.
Whole heads of garlic pickled in a rich salty liquid for use as a strong flavouring.
Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Ingredients information here. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here. Check out our easy Garlic recipes here and here.