Food For Thought/ Health

Ingredient Spotlight: The Almighty Garlic

Garlic is a staple – if not THE staple – in our kitchen. I was raised by an avid garlic eater, and then married one (thankfully). My husband used to tell me my “natural smell” was garlic. Flattering, right?

Garlic is a common ingredient across numerous cultures. With mostly Korean and Turkish influenced recipes found on this website, you’ll find it in almost all of the savory dishes I’ve shared. 

In this ingredient spotlight, we’re going to examine this pungent, delectable herb that is so very important to dishes from around the world.


Which country eats the most garlic?

A quick search on the threadboards of the internet and you’ll see a lot of folks guess Korea consumes the most garlic. In fact, it’s their neighbor China that consumes the most garlic per capita. It also produces the most garlic, producing 80% of the global supply

According to figures from 2016, the countries of China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Russia, Korea and Brazil account for 87% of the world consumption of garlic. (I couldn’t find more recent figures – if you have them feel free to drop in the comments.)

I know a lot of Americans would be shocked that Italy is not on this list. While a favorite ingredient in many of the Italian dishes we’re familiar with in the States, it’s more prominent in the southern regions and not throughout the entire country. Whereas throughout Asia, garlic is eaten raw, cooked, and even used for medicinal purposes.


Why is garlic an important ingredient?

Garlic’s unmistakable flavor makes it an essential ingredient to sautes, soups, stews, marinades and much more. It’s not uncommon in Korea or in Turkey to eat raw or pickled garlic – what I would consider to be garlic in its most intense form. Used in small doses and usually present in side dishes, the biting flavor of the garlic pairs great with a rich main course.

The longer the garlic is cooked, the more the flavor is tampered down. How you cut the garlic also impacts the intensity of flavor. You may notice that most recipes on this website instruct you to crush and chop the garlic. That’s because this will produce a stronger garlic flavor in your dish.

Because garlic has such a distinctive, present flavor, garlic fans miss it dearly when it’s not included in a dish. The flavor effect of adding umami garlic is so satisfying, you may also find that you don’t need to add quite as much salt for your dish.

As a big consumer of garlic myself, I find most dishes that don’t have garlic to be…lackluster.


Is garlic really that good for you?

When you crush or chop up a garlic bulb, you’re not only prepping for a tastier meal. You’re also releasing a sulfur compound called allicin. The health benefits that come from this are why garlic is often cited as one of the most widely used herbs in the three major healing systems of the world: Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western Medicine.( For a deeper dive on this, read Garlic: The Pungent Panacea).

Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways  garlic can benefit your health (condensed from the Cleveland Clinic but also found on about 1 million other websites):

  • Boosted immunity
  • Lower Cancer risk
  • Anti-Inflammatory for achy joints & muscles
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better skin (used as topical for acne)

And what would an ingredient spotlight be without citing Eat To Beat Disease by William Li, MD, my favorite go-to for looking up healing properties of food. Li notes that aged garlic (found as a dietary supplement) retains potent bioactives such as apigenin that can influence the immune system. He cites studies that show how garlic can strengthen immune defense against everyday infections and even cancer. He also lists garlic as a staple to always keep handy in your kitchen.


What is the best type of garlic to buy?

When you’re at a typical grocery store, you’ll likely see hardneck and/or softneck garlic.

Hardneck garlic has a hard stalk that runs through the center and protrudes out the top of the bulb. This garlic is going to pack the most punch – so it’s a great choice if you’re going to be cooking with it.

Softneck garlic is most commonly found in grocery stores, and it won’t have anything sticking up from the middle. It also usually has more cloves within each bulb and has a milder flavor. This would be the better option if you’re going to eat it raw!

There are other types of lesser known garlic as well (black garlic, creole garlic, ramps, scapes, and many more!). You can visit the Gardening Channel to learn about the many varieties of garlic.

Are you craving something savory now? Visit the Korean or Turkish sections of this site to get a few ideas for dinner!

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