Nature's flavorful healer
Garlic is chock-full of disease-fighting compounds, no matter how you slice—or crush, or peel, or mince—it.
When a cook reaches for the garlic, it’s surely for reasons of taste—this plant is used to enhance flavor in thousands of dishes. But before it was a culinary marvel, garlic was recommended for medicinal purposes. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, “the father of Western medicine,” prescribed garlic to treat infections, respiratory problems and fatigue. And athletes in the original Olympics were given garlic to enhance their performance.
Garlic is a plant from the allium (onion) family that closely resembles onions, shallots and leeks. Each garlic bulb has 10–20 smaller sections called cloves, which contain sulphur compounds including allicin. Allicin, which helps regulate blood pressure and blood-sugar levels and is responsible for garlic’s distinct aroma, is partially destroyed by cooking, which is why experts recommend consuming garlic raw or cooked just slightly (garlic breath be damned). But there are still plenty of other ways to reap the benefits of this pungent natural healer.
Garlic, which means “spear-shaped leek” in Middle English, contains manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber and selenium, the last of which is imperative for the immune system and thyroid to function properly. An ounce of garlic boasts 1.98 grams of protein, 0.6 grams of fiber and 9 grams of carbs, all for just 42 calories. Some of its vaunted benefits are more clearly established than others—it’s been proven to help reduce heart-disease risk and hypertension, for example, and may cut the risk of some cancers as well. Experts are divided on whether or not the food can actually build up immunity—some say taking garlic supplements, drinking garlic tea with honey or adding cloves of garlic to hot stews or soups can reduce the length of a common cold. It’s worth a shot, right? Just be warned, though, that consuming too much garlic may be harmful for people with heart disease or blood disorders, because it can interfere with medications and/or exacerbate side effects.
Stop by your local farmers’ market to purchase this plant—it will likely have a better, fresher selection than a supermarket. Look for garlic with plump bulbs intact and firm cloves, and avoid garlic with green shoots at the tip, an indication it’s already started to sprout and is not as fresh. Store these bad boys in a cool, dark place with good ventilation to prevent them from getting moldy or sprouting.
Now for the fun part: eating! Garlic can be consumed raw—or minced, peeled, pressed, sliced or crushed before cooking. It complements savory dishes such as soups and sauces and adds flavor to pizza, pasta, poultry and stir-fries.
For an unexpected burst of flavor, mash garlic into potatoes, sauté it with vegetables or make a healthy, simple salad dressing or meat marinade by mixing pressed cloves with olive oil. Don’t want to do the work? Hop on over to southern Europe, birthplace of the highly regarded Mediterranean diet, where garlic is an essential part of the cuisine. Doesn’t your health deserve such a vacation?
Worried about garlic breath? A study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2016 suggests that munching on raw mint leaves, apples or lettuce after a garlicky meal can help neutralize allicin, which is responsible for the plant’s odor.