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The Benefits of Garlic & Why I Love It So

It gives you really bad breath. Yup. And many stay away from using it in abundance because it just streams out of your pores like nothing else (well, curry may come close). There is nothing like the smell of someone working out, sweating, and the porous aroma of garlic that trumps the foul smell of cardiac activity funk.

I had to go there to establish why, despite it’s potency and its stifling expo-facto odor, I love me some garlic.

I’ve mentioned before how garlic is 1/3 of the Holy Trinity of Cuban cooking and what goes in our sofritos. I’m not exactly sure who established that, but I’m sure glad the pioneers of Cuban cuisine did so. My cooking experience is far better with its presence. It makes everything savory (or sweet in some cases) and simply taste that much better. Better than salt brining out the true essence of an ingredient, garlic compliments the same ingredient and offers a subtle sting that salt and pepper can’t do.

Because I love garlic so much, I thought I’d indulge us all with some history, benefits and uses of the pretty white and pearly vegetable.

GENETICS OF GARLIC

Garlic comes from a group of edible  plants called Allium. Onions, shallots, chives and scallions also come from this genera. If you’ve ever cooked with any of these, you are sure to have noticed their common characteristics: leafy layers (paper, as in the case of garlic) and high in fructose sugar. Garlic grows in bulbs or “heads,” with individual sections called cloves. Garlic has the least amount of water and highest level of sugar, causing it to brown much faster when heat is applied. Its high levels of sugar also cause that sticky affect when handling raw garlic.

Have you noticed that when you cook garlic in butter, its pungency is not as strong as when you cook in hot fats like oil. Also, the finer garlic is chopped, the stronger it is. That’s because it releases sulfur compounds. If you’ve cooked mashed garlic vs. minced garlic, you may have noticed the difference in potency. When roasted, garlic is even less powerful because the sugar content caramelizes and the high heat “activates sulfur-digesting enzymes.” (The Science of Good Food)

(Pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

In essence, if you want a strong, garlicky tasting dish, mince those cloves up and really release those sulfurs. If you want to keep it mild, usesliced, mashed whole cloves or roasted garlic, in your dishes.

SOME HISTORY & BENEFITS OF EL AJO

According to ancient myth, garlic was used for medicinal purposes such as getting rid of toothaches (which I get regularly–think it’s my nervous system) and casting out evil energy. Nowadays, garlic is associated and medically linked with lowering high blood cholesterol, though a financed study by the NIH did not find that extraordinary consumption of garlic reduces cholesterol in individuals already bearing high levels. My mother, on the other hand, swears it does and has seen some decrease in her cholesterol. And, some people I know, deep into herbal therapy, have claimed that frequent  consumption of raw garlic has helped improve their immune system.

I can’t say if scientifically or medically either are true, but if so, I should be healthier and stronger than Popeye, considering the amount of garlic I ingest.

Garlicshot

STORING & COOKING WITH GARLIC

Garlic is mostly cultivated in China, the largest purveyor of the seasoning bulb, with India coming in second. In most cuisines, garlic is used  to season foods and usually paired with onions. Just like the onion, the paper-like skin is removed and unused. However, in the famous Cuban dish, Yuca con Mojo, we reserve some of the paper and use it when sautéing the onions and garlic…it adds texture and a different element of aesthetic; of course we don’t eat it.

Here’s a super low budget video of me making yuca con mojo and mashing the garlic. Notice how I keep some of the paper skin at the end.

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Choose from 3 different types of garlic: American, Italian and Mexican; the latter two have a milder taste and have a mauve tint to them. There is also green garlic, which is immature, meaning it’s not reached its full potency, but is still okay to cook with and eat. Harvest for green garlic is in March and May (Wikipedia). All other garlic is available year round, making it very easy for me to use in every day cooking. In our cuisine, we use it in our tomato based sauces, in our beefs, in our chicken dishes and our soups. We almost exclusively use it to do a simple seasoning mojo for chicken, fish, flank steak (and usually with lime or lemon juice and onions).

In other cuisines, like Italian, garlic is obviously used to make fresh garlic bread, marinara, crositini and other dishes. European countries have been using garlic much more than before. When I was in Monaco last Spring, the daily market at La Condamine had beautiful garlic, but very, very pricey.

When buying and storing garlic, avoid shriveled up and soft cloves, you know the ones that are  ultra wrinkly and super dry skin. Shelf life is pretty decent: 8 weeks if a head is unbroken and about 5-10 days as individual cloves (though I’ve let mine sit far longer and still been able to get good taste out of them). I don’t recommend buying pre-minced and packaged garlic. Bought some once and once only from a huge warehouse and it was awful. The taste is completely sacrificed. If you don’t like all that mashing and mincing with a knife, investing in a garlic press is the way to go.

Because of the super strong odor that garlic gives off, I’d stay away from eating it everyday in excess. You don’t want to be that stinky person at the gym sweating cloves instead of excess water weight! And the breath! Oh my goodness, it could kill you if you get a good whiff of it.

Albeit those negatives properties, give me garlic in anything. Fresh, raw, cooked, minced, sliced, roasted, chopped, beat up, pressed, whatevah! I’m working on a garlic dip and will let you know how it goes! I just love me some garlic! What a wonderful addition to any food.

Don’t let the ensuing bad breath scare you. Go munch on some parsley and you’re good to go!

Here are some of my favorite dishes I’ve featured here on Flanboyant Eats, where garlic was heavy and caused some personal setbacks (well, in terms of curbing in-person meetings!)

GARLICKY HUMMUS

SPICY TILAPIA WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND KALAMATA OLIVES

New: SPANISH STyLE PLANTAIN OMELETTE

HOW DO YOU LOVE TO USE GARLIC!!?!

*Update 3/13: This was intended to be an basic informative post on garlic: Where it comes from, its benefits and some, not all uses. There is tons more information on garlic and even some garlic varieties I didn’t touch on like pink and black (relatively new in the American market), because I’ve yet to play with them, hence will deserve their own post . Just fyi!

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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23 thoughts on “The Benefits of Garlic & Why I Love It So

  1. Ole! Spot on, garlic is a must in my cooking too, however I don’t agree it makes us all “stink” and smell through our pores lol. it just depends how you eat it. But I swear when I eat “mojo de ajo” OMG it does give me dragon breath!

  2. I learned something new today. I like garlic, but I can’t stand the smell of my own breath and burp afterwards. I guess I’ll invest in a garlic press so that I can kick my dishes up a notch in flavor.

  3. Yo, thats a lot of SCIENCE chica. I peeped how you hit us with some history too. Garlic used for “casting out evil energy”. That gives a little light to some vampire movies that I’ve watched.

  4. I love this! Teach girl. I used to buy garlic pills but the guy i was dating got mad. LOL! Yup it came through my skin even in the pill form. Geeesh! I was taking them to help my immune system so i’d stop getting sick. Not sure if they worked or not since i stopped taking them to “preserve” my relationship WHICH ironically is no longer (thank God) sigh.

    Anyway it’s good stuff. So tasty! Onions are also good for you. They also have tons of sulfur. The strong stinky good stuff. LOL! 🙂

  5. Good Garlic!, Good Job, we know that you definitely cannot cook Cuban without Garlic and it’s cousin Onion. And who would want to. If there’s no garlic in the house I can’t cook. Everybody needs garlic in their life, it keeps away el gripe.

  6. Nathan: what! of course we can not function w/out this in our foods. I think even if I weren’t Cuban, I’d be a lover of it. It’s just tooooo good.

    Kenster: Hilarious! Burp? I’m mad you’re smelling your own burb, Ken! LOL. Garlic press is def. the way for you to go if you don’t like handling it.

    Dullah: Well thanks for reading it. Glad you learned something new. Even tho there is soooo much more history to garlic and its origin, the alleged medicinal and spiritual uses of it are intriguing. I did read about using garlic to stand off vampires…

    Miesha: Never had garlic pills. Would much rather just eat it! And if the guy couldn’t handle it, then surely he wasn’t the one!

    Sue: absolutely not–agreed! I’d prob get more colds if I didn’t eat it so bunch. On any give day I have at least 10-12 heads of garlic laying around. It goes quick over here!

  7. Good read B. sniff sniff, sorry, just smelling my mouth here just to make sure I don’t scare myself..:-) You know as chefs, we are always looking for ingredients that make food sing, but the tried and true will and should never be omitted. Our friend the garlic can often make or break ur dishes..too much, too little, too burnt, not cooked enough. It’s all about the balance. So many treatments for this one bulbous product, many of which u’ve pointed out. Remember that garlic crisp they made on top chef? olive oil poached, chips, tea (if ur from the islands)…damn B, I think I shall join u in making a garlic dip too..let’s compare notes :-). Thanks for the piece..
    Chef Irie

  8. An interesting post.

    Just like you, I LOVE GARLIC! I always use it and cannot live without it. I particularly love pink garlic, fresh garlic and the smoked garlic from France…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  9. Very informative read Bren. I too love cooking with and eating foods with garlic. Fresh garlic, garlic pepper, garlic salt it doesn’t matter, I use it all. It just makes it taste so good that I can tolerate the after effects. I just hope I don’t offend any if and when it starts to come out my pores. LOL

  10. Ah, the wonders of ajo! But for an almost 100 percent Cuban girl, you forgot one of our favorite uses: pan con aceite y ajo, just like that, or pan con tomate, aceite … y AJO 🙂 the poor man’s sandwich.
    Good read. I learned a lot. Thanks.

  11. Ah, garlic! Glorious garlic! Grand garlic raw in salads, Gilroy garlic sweetening ice cream, grated garlic on bread, good golly garlic makes me giddy! Hard-neck, soft-neck, or elephant, I’ve never met a garlic that isn’t great.

    Some people use that whiff of garlic to distinguish people who eat well from others. So beware not smelling at least a little of garlic… Besides, is there such a thing as garlic in excess?

  12. Garlic is MANDATORY! I buy it weekly! My favorite is to grate it over, well everything.

    If you’re on a date, just remember that two garlics cancel each other out – if you eat it, make sure he does too!! YUMMMMMMM

    By-the-way, that garlicy mayo for the salmon cakes is to die for…

  13. Chef Irie: I def. don’t scare myself, but it’s an absolute MUST in mi cocina. And well noted points. Too much garlic can be overkill–which I’ve done with my garlic, but sometimes I want that affect. it’s the protein dishes you have to careful with, unless you’re making 40 garlic chicken. I love grated garlics, freshly dried garlic, and I’ll let you know as soon I finish whipping up the garlic spread. it’s 100% garlic!

    Rosa: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I’m so tickled that so many people love it as much as do. You’ve inspired me to find pink garlic.

    Rashaun: girl, you know how we do! We put it in TODO! Who cares if you offend anyone. It just means your healthier than the next.

    Val: girl, we’re all stinky if we eat it every day, in everything!! 🙂

    Jason: need to try gilroy (at this point I think I assigned two finds!) never used on sweetening garlic. Sounds like we need a food tryst! Like you however, I’ve never found a head of garlic I didn’t like (well except for jarred garlic–disgusting).

    Tiffany: Yup! And girl, can you believe I’ve not blogged about that awesome sauce! It’ll be a follow up to this post… It’s sooo darn delicious that one of crew at FOX 5 emailed me for the recipe! You know it’s good when he follows you to the car to get your number!

  14. Heh. I mostly mean the fantastic garlic ice cream at the Gilroy garlic festival. Must have been well-roasted, then creamed into a vanilla base. Definitely a fun festival if you’re there and up to roasting yourself.

  15. I like garlic, however I rarely cook with it. I usually have when eating Italian dishes and then I like alot of it.

  16. Love garlic any which way!!! Can’t cook almost anything Cuban or Latin without it…Great article!

  17. I mean can you really have a meal without Garlic somewhere in it? The smell alone when cooking is best! Really wakes up your senses!!

  18. Jason: Oh, i was gonna say, though I’m still interested in learning more about this garlic ice cream. Gilroy festival??? Looking it up now! Thanks for the heads up.

    Terry: What! We have to change that, T… i promise you’ll be hooked.

    Tia; yup, yup, yup!! todo requiere ajo!

    Jonathan: Nope, nada is the same w/out it. another case where i’m thankful to the Chinese for cultivating great crops.

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