Nutrition Articles

Garlic: The Big Flavor with Benefits

Behind Garlic's Bold Taste is a Healthy Nutritional Profile

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Garlic is a great way to add bold taste to your cooking without extra calories or sodium. But did you know that garlic offers more than big flavor? It's such a common ingredient in so many dishes that it's easy to overlook its health benefits.
 
Garlic is a member of the Allium family, along with onions, leeks and shallots. Like a tulip or daffodil, garlic grows from a bulb underground, producing leaves and a flower stalk. The underground bulb, with its individual cloves, is what humans have cooked with for more than 6,000 years.
 
Garlic originated in central Asia. Although Gilroy, Ca, calls itself the garlic capital of the world, China is the world's dominant garlic producer. Garlic shows up in many world cuisines, from garlicky Asian sauces, to Italian pasta dishes, to the classic French sauce, aioli.
 
Ancient Greeks and Romans embraced garlic for its health benefits; the Roman physician Galen praised its cure-all properties. Today, the National Institutes for Health notes that garlic is used as medicine for many conditions involving the heart and blood system, and for treating the immune system. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting properties. According to the NIH, garlic is ''possibly effective'' when used as treatment for high blood pressure, fungal infections of the skin, hardening of the arteries, and colon, rectal and stomach cancer. When used medicinally, garlic is typically concentrated into extract or powder and given as tablets or capsules.
 
Varieties
Garlic comes in hardneck and softneck varieties. Softneck varieties have a flexible flower stalk (which can be braided) and smaller cloves; most commercially available garlic is of this variety. Hardneck garlics have a firm, edible flower stalk (called a scape) and larger cloves. Increasingly, small farmers are growing heirloom hardneck varieties, some of which date back hundreds of years. You can find these varieties at many farmers markets.
 
Nutrition Data
Garlic has been shown to moderately reduce cholesterol, and its sulfur compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure. It's also low in calories (4 calories per clove) and high in vitamin C, selenium and magnesium. Very preliminary research has suggested that garlic may inhibit the production of fat cells in the body.

A Note on Prepared/Processed Garlic
Allicin, a unique sulfur component, is responsible for garlic's pungent flavor and also for some of its health benefits. Allicin is released when a clove of garlic is chopped and is at its most potent when used soon after chopping. For this reason, prepared minced garlic sold in jars in the grocery is less flavorful and less beneficial than fresh garlic. Pre-minced garlic is packaged with oil and preservatives like citric or phosphoric acid. Since it's so easy to peel and chop garlic, using fresh is recommended. You can even grow it at home pretty easily.
 


Buying and Storing
Look for garlic bulbs that are undamaged, with their papery skins intact. Choose bulbs that have larger cloves, as these are easier to peel. Garlic can be stored in a cool, dark place for three to six months; discard any cloves that have dried out or begun to sprout.
 
Cooking
Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. Cooking tempers the flavor (and lessens garlic breath). To prepare garlic for cooking, remove the papery skin and the hard root end from each clove, then chop according to recipe directions. (Some research has shown that cutting or crushing garlic activates its enzymes and that it's beneficial to wait five minutes before continuing with the recipe.) You can infuse olive oil with garlic by simmering a half cup of oil in a saucepan with 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Garlic can be roasted, which creates a soft, caramelized texture and sweet, rich flavor.

Note: Garlic is also sold in powdered or granulated form, which is appropriate for use in recipes like dressings, sauces or dips. Garlic powder is not a good substitute in recipes that call for sautéing or cooking fresh garlic. Granulated garlic, garlic powder and garlic salt are three different ingredients and shouldn't be used interchangeably, so pay attention to your recipe. Avoid garlic salt if you're watching your sodium levels.

Healthy Recipes that Feature Garlic
 
Chef Meg's Favorite Ginger-Garlic Sauce
This versatile recipe can be used to add bold flavor as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats or vegetables.
 
Low-Fat Slow-Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Perfect for a crowd, this recipe can be made ahead for family gatherings.

Chef Meg's Grilled Citrus Garlic Flank Steak
Garlic adds a ton of flavor to this healthy, lean cut of beef.
 
Chef Meg's Herb-Roasted Garlic
Sweet, softened roasted garlic is terrific on toasted bread slices, or in soups and stews.

So, what are you waiting for? Start adding more garlic to your meals--the flavor and health benefits will be worth the garlic breath!


 
Sources
 
National Institutes of Health. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov.
 
The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012. http://whfoods.org.
 




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Member Comments

  • ETHELMERZ
    Eat it it you like it, don't worry about fresh or jarred! Greeks and Roman's didn't have many spices way back then, so of course used a lot of it. Don't worry about "possible" health benefits, no one has come up with any amount that might do anything at all yet, even after test trials. Just enjoy it.
  • I really do not care for garlic and I also am allergic to it. I recall a woman from Italy saying on TV that real Italians do not use garlic in cooking. This was born out one time when at a place I worked for we went to a local Italian cultural center (Santa Maria Goretti). I really was NOT looking forward to it as I had wild thoughts out everything having garlic in it. It DIDN'T. What was odd was even the SALAD had spaghetti in it!
  • I like garlic & usually use the minced garlic in a jar.
    I was a little disappointed that the article didn't mention this form.
  • Garlic is a food I cook with every day!
  • a bulb of garlic a day, keeps not just the dr. away, but everyone else too.. so no germs!
  • I love garlic. My hubby and I but my son don't like it. He say we have eaten so much that it coming out our pores.
  • BAMAJAM
    A day without garlic is like a day without sunshine---- love it! lol

    I buy the minced garlic in a jar and it seems to keep in the refrigerator (forever).
  • HEIDISHOPE
    I love garlic but then the smell comes out all my pores and mouth the next day. Is there someway to neutralize that effect?
  • When I cook any starchy food, which right now is mostly brown rice, I put a clove or two of garlic in. I'm getting better about remembering to take them out before serving, too! LOL I bought a big pack of garlic at half price and though it's already starting to sprout, I just break the sprout off and use it. I could probably just as well leave the sprout on - I used to see wild garlic greens available at the farmer's market. Most garlic is from China, which I don't like, so I am working on planting some of my sprouted garlic and growing my own in my apartment window.
  • We LOVE garlic! Broccoli aglio olio...yum!

    Had shrimp scampi tonight...
  • And don't forget - Garlic keeps vampires away :D Always a healthy thing.

    Okay - just teasing - but I use garlic in almost every meal. We eat a lot of tofu dishes and garlic is essential to give it flavor.
  • I take garlic tablets now and then because of their health benefits, I cannot take them for too long or I start smelling. (laughing) We love sauteing garlic with veggies for a stir fry.
  • great article! i roast 4-6 lg heads of garlic per month at a time, store in fridge to use in cooking as needed. olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes or rosemary in a foil covered shallow pan. 200c for 45 min.
    i use it in almost everything. love it!!! i serve it as a spread for fresh baked bread instead of butter with an italian meal and my family goes crazy for it.
  • I cannot eat garlic either. So whether its good for me or not is (unfortunately) NOT relevant. Still an interesting article.
  • In regards to discarding sprouting garlic.... I just stick it in the garden. Some grows, and probably some doesn't. We have garlic growing in little corners everywhere around the house. When the blossoms start to dry out, dig them out, let them dry slightly outside (I leave 3 -6 days), cut the stalk and store. We haven't purchased garlic for years.

    When you pull the garlic out of the soil, little hard "bulbets" stay in the soil and grow into new plants. Easy, peasey.

About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

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