Did you know that…
Garlic, like its relative onion, is a very ancient spontaneous plant, originally from Central Asia where its cultivation began and then spread in the rest of the world. It has always been used both as a food plant and for its extraordinary therapeutic properties that Pasteur scientifically defined in 1858: garlic is antibiotic, antiseptic, balsamic, antihypertensive.
Its effectiveness was already empirically recognized in antiquity and there are many testimonies that attest to it:
- from some inscriptions in the Egyptian pyramids we know that garlic was consumed in large quantities by the workers of the pyramids, probably as a tonic to preserve their health and strength. Garlic was also part of Tutankhamun’s funeral kit
- the Bible testifies to its use by the Jews, who probably brought it to Europe from Egypt
- in ancient Greece, garlic was widely used, also to flavour bread. Especially soldiers and athletes made extensive use of it, always as a tonic; Hippocrates recommended it for intestinal disorders, Dioscorides recommended it for various disorders such as colic or menstruation
- even in ancient Rome it was widely consumed by soldiers to prepare for battles and was consumed at banquets as a sexual stimulant. Pliny the Elder speaks of garlic in the Naturalis Historia, recommending it in the form of an ointment to treat abrasions and wounds, or as a remedy to treat blood pressure and pain in the teeth
- in Chinese medicine and Indian medicine, garlic has always been used as a remedy for coughs, rheumatism and as a tonic to treat depression and lack of appetite
- in the Middle Ages, doctors used masks stuffed with garlic to defend themselves against infections
- during World War I, garlic was used to treat wounds when antiseptics were missing
For all these reasons, garlic has always been used not only as food, but also in the form of drops, ointment and powder.
Garlic has always been recognised as having a powerful magical effect.
In Egypt it was thought to keep snakes and especially the souls of the dead away.
In the Greco-Roman religion it was dedicated to Hecate (Trivia for the Romans), goddess of spells and ghosts.
In central Europe, garlic is considered a powerful talisman especially against vampires; in the Catholic area it is bought and given as a gift on June 24th, the day dedicated to St. John, which coincides with the summer solstice. The night of June 24th is in fact considered the longest of the year and therefore propitious for witches and spells, against which garlic acts as a talisman and good luck charm. One of the most famous Neapolitan superstitious formulas says: ” Aglio, fravaglio, fattura ca nun quaglia” (“garlic and small fishes, curse that doesn’t strike).
In Taoism it is considered a demonic plant and therefore should be avoided.
The garlic plant is part of the liliaceae, and has white or pink flowers that bloom at the end of summer. The part we eat is the bulb, made up of cloves (the bulbils) each covered with a film. Harvesting generally takes place in late spring or summer, then the garlic is stored in a cool and dry environment to prevent germination. It can also be dried and ground into powder, but it loses much of its aroma and risks giving food a bitter taste.
A conservation method that is spreading all over the world is fermentation, a process developed in 2004 in Korea, which produces black garlic. The garlic preserved this way loses its pungent flavour and acquires a sweeter and deeper note, similar to soy, with an aftertaste of liquorice. It seems that fermented garlic, even if it has a lower content of allicin, on the other hand has a higher content of antioxidants that make it a real superfood, useful for the prevention of tumours and the reduction of cholesterol.
Garlic’s use in the kitchen
The use of garlic in cooking is truly limitless. If well calibrated, it gives an edge to almost every dish, from sauces, to fish, to meat, to vegetables. In some cases it is the real protagonist of the dish: this is the case, for example, of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio in Italy or of aioli sauce in Spain and France.
The side effects
If the smell and taste of garlic are extremely pleasant in a well-cooked dish, the smell that remains on the hands and breath for a long time is not as pleasant. Already in ancient Rome, Horace advised avoiding garlic to avoid “your beauty putting her hand against your kiss, and going to sleep on the edge of the bed” (Epode 3).
Even the Bard, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wrote: “And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic for we are to utter sweet breath”.
However, there are several measures to combat the stench of garlic.
First of all, you can peel it while wearing gloves or more simply wash your hands immediately with dish soap and rub them with a bit of parsley. It is a good idea, when you have to chop garlic, to remove the green inner core, which contains more allicin. It is also possible to boil garlic in a bit of milk, this way it loses most of its acidity, but obviously it also loses other substances that are important for your health. Be careful not to burn it (it becomes bitter), but only let it brown before adding the other ingredients.
For the breath, the rule of brushing your teeth thoroughly after a meal obviously applies, it is also useful to drink milk or lemon juice, and possibly chew an aromatic herb, parsley in this case is particularly effective.