WHAT IS GARLIC?
This plant is a bit confusing when deciding if it’s a spice or an herb. Garlic has leaves and so could qualify as an herb. However it’s the bulb that is actually used, making this a spice! Technically a vegetable, it is thought to have originated in Siberia over 5,000 years ago. The name was originally a term meaning “spear-shaped leek.” Capable of growing up to 3 feet (1 meter) in height above ground, it thrives in milder climates. While the cloves of the bulb are the main focus of chefs, the leaves and flowers can also be eaten much like with a scallion.
WHY IS GARLIC GOOD FOR YOU?
Known as one of the stinkier foods, its odor is due to a substance called allicin. When released (eating), it quickly breaks down into sulfur compounds. This helps to protect the plant from being eaten in the wild. While aging the bulbs can eliminate this smell, it also removes many of garlic’s health benefits. Considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet, it’s rich in vitamins (B6, C), minerals (manganese, selenium) and fiber while still being low in calories. From helping to lower blood pressure, being rich in antioxidants, helping clean out your liver and helping to lower cholesterol, this plant is nature’s version of a miracle drug.
WHEN IS GARLIC IN SEASON?
North of the equator they are a March to September crop (February to May in the southern hemisphere). The bulbs though can take up to 8 months to fully form. Both a Fall and a Spring planting are possible. Easily bruised when harvested, they take another 2 to 3 weeks to dry.
HOW SHOULD GARLIC BE STORED?
Purchased fresh in stores, they’ll keep for 1 to 3 months if stored in a dark, dry place at room temperature. Once you start removing cloves from a bulb you’ll have about a week to use the rest.
IS CRUSHING GARLIC GOOD OR BAD WHEN COOKING?
The science behind abusing this plant when cooking is pretty straightforward. Each bulb contains a phytonutrient called allin. When you slice or crush a raw clove, this causes a chemical reaction which converts your allin into allicin. That enzyme is what gives garlic its health benefits. However in both cases, crushed or sliced, it needs to sit as is (after cutting / crushing) for 5 to 10 minutes. This gives the allicin time to form. And the garlic needs to be raw, not cooked prior to abusing. Crushing a clove however allows a chef to both easily peel the skin away while releasing some of the bulb’s natural oils. This in turn gives your adjacent ingredients a stronger garlic flavor. Slicing and dicing your cloves allows more of the sulfur compounds present to stay inside the flesh of the clove. So diced garlic gives your food a more subtle taste.