Garlic is a species in the onion family Alliaceae. Its close relatives include the onion, the shallot, and the leek. Garlic has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.. A bulb of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves.

The cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes. The leaves, stems (scape) and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible and most often consumed while immature and still tender. The papery, protective layers of 'skin' over various parts of the plant and the roots attached to the bulb are the only parts not considered palatable.

Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic with approximately 23 billion pounds annually, accounting for over 75% of world output. India (4%) and South Korea (3%) follow, with the United States (2%) in fourth place, where garlic is grown primarily as a cash crop in every state except for Alaska.This leaves 16% of global garlic production in countries that produce less than 2% of global output.

Storing and Cooking

Garlic is best stored out of the refrigerator, but in a cool place. Always store away from sunlight, allowing air to circulate around the bulbs. It will keep fresh for four to six weeks. Canning garlic or storing it in olive oil is not recommended, as botulism has been found even in commercially canned garlic. Both canning and freezing can cause unwanted changes to the flavor and texture.

Many cooks love cooking with garlic, and cannot imagine doing without it. Few aromas elicit the deep “oooohs” and “aahhhs” in my kitchen like that of cooking garlic, especially when paired with the traditional olive oil.

Garlic's characteristic flavor comes from a distinctive oil, diallyl disulfide. The amount of oil released from the garlic is determined by its handling -- the smaller the pieces the garlic is chopped into, the more oil that is released; thus, the stronger the flavor produced. Pressing the garlic releases even more flavor than chopping. This oil, when exposed to air, can turn bitter or harsh, so it is not recommended to store large amounts of cut or chopped garlic for long periods of time before use.

The cooking process affects the flavor of garlic. The taste of raw garlic is sharp and very pronounced. When garlic is cooked, however, it becomes sweet and very even, not so pervasive in flavor. When cooked very slowly, for long periods of time, it becomes very mellow and nutty tasting, not at all sharp or biting. When cooking garlic, keep in mind that it burns easily, so use only medium or low heat. If it turns brown or black, discard it and start over. Processed forms of garlic, like flakes, powder, or dehydrated garlic have little or no diallyl disulfide, and can taste bitter or acrid. Fresh is, no doubt, best.

The flavor of garlic can be heightened by the addition of freshly ground pepper, each complimenting and intensifying the other. Mixing garlic with eggs and olive oil produces aioli. Garlic, oil, and a chunky base produce skordalia. Blending garlic, almond, oil and soaked bread produces ajoblanco. About 1/4 teaspoon of dried powdered garlic is equivalent to one fresh clove.

The parchment-like skin is much like the skin of an onion, and is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat cloves of garlic by dribbling olive oil (or other oil based seasoning) over them and roast them in the oven. The garlic softens and can be extracted from the cloves by squeezing the (root) end of the bulb or individually by squeezing one end of the clove.

Garlic recipes:

Simple Salsa

Bob's Fabulous Yummy Marinade

Did you know?

The average food item travels 1550-2480 miles (2500-4000 KM) in the U.S.
-The WorldWatch Institute, "Home Grown," 2002


"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth."
~John F. Kennedy

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