Steeped in history for thousands of years as both food and medicine, garlic (Allium sativum) is a pungent stimulant with powerful antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diaphoretic, diuretic, aphrodisiac, and blood- and cholesterol- lowering properties. Many of garlic’s medicinal properties are attributed to its volatile oil, allicin, and other sulphur compoounds, which are released when crushed or sliced. Garlic is useful to support respiratory issues in the winter months, throw off colds, flus and fevers, and to boost circulation and stamina. In fact, garlic was used by the ancient Greek olympians and Roman soldiers to sustain their daily strength.
Choose fresh, raw garlic in medicine making as it is more potent. It is best to plant your own or buy organic non-irradiated garlic, as it will contain the properties used for healing. Irradiated garlic, such as those imported from China, looks perfectly large and white, and will not contain the green shoot in the middle of the clove. To prepare garlic, apply the “chop, then stop” mantra: crush or chop the cloves and let sit for at least 15 minutes before cooking to give sufficient time for the enzyme alliinase to convert alliin to active allicin. The longer you let it sit, the more allicin is formed, and the ‘hotter’ and more garlicky the garlic will taste. To retain garlic’s antibacterial properties it should not be heated at too high a temperature or for too long. Rather, add garlic towards the end of cooking to preserve its phyto goodness. Store garlic bulbs at room temperature in dry conditions in a well-ventilated area.
To elevate the taste of garlic, try roasted garlic which mellows and sweetens it flavour, or fermenting garlic to create black garlic. Black garlic is ash-black, bittersweet with hints of balsamic vinegar and tamarind. To make black garlic, the cloves are kept for several weeks at a temperature of 50-65℃ in a fermentation box with controlled humidity. Black garlic is traditionally used in Korea and Japan and recently has been marketed as a functional food and used in avant garde cuisine. The earthy bittersweet taste of black garlic means it can kill two birds with one stone – in entrees, its umami works well with seaweeds and fungi, and in desserts it adds an unexpected dimension.
Raw garlic is best taken with food to avoid stomach upset (I never knew anyone who would take raw garlic on its own anyway!). Avoid garlic to you are allergic to alliums, have gastrointestinal sensitivities, or on blood thinning medications or antibiotics. Avoid using garlic (and other alliums) when cooking for Jains, Hindus and Buddhists because they are considered rajasic and tamasic in these religions, meaning they increase passion and ignorance and disturb meditations and devotions.
Garlic has a reputation for harbouring Clostridium botulinum spores, which thrive in anaerobic environment and can cause botulism, a potentially fatal food poisoning. To minimise the risk when making your own garlic-infused oil, always store it in the fridge and use within three days, or freeze it for a longer period.