The Joys and Benefits of Great Garlic (Article)
Great garlic is an amazing food.
Left whole and unpressed, the aroma is slight and flavor minimal. But chopped finely or pressed, and the flavor comes alive -- adding sweetness and spice to whatever dish you are preparing. When cooked, the garlic flavor, although often strong, can be mellowed and slightly sweet.
But raw -- well, you better know what you are eating.
Tastes can range from bitter, to sweet, to hot and spicy. What you want, if using raw garlic, is the type of garlic that adds great sweet and spicy flavors, sometimes with a nice heat -- but not bitter flavors. And you don't want that lingering garlic taste - the kinds that stays with you for days. Bitter is a great way to ruin a great meal.
Unfortunately, if your garlic is only available in the grocery store, exceptional garlic might be hard to find. Most of what you will see is one variety of soft-neck garlic that is often grown in China. As with many other things, it is common here because of its very long shelf life - not because it has a nice flavor. Unfortunately, it usually tastes very bitter and the flavor is overwhelmingly strong, even when cooked.
There are over 300 varieties of garlic grown
in the world -- even though most of what we buy here is of one particular variety. But in Europe, it is a different story. Garlic varieties abound -- most so beautifully flavorful and spicy, you would be begging for more. When I lived in Sevilla, Spain, the most popular breakfast treat was a freshly baked baguette, sliced in half and toasted, and then served with huge cloves of juicy garlic, and a side of local olive oil.
The garlic was not too spicy -- but beautifully fresh and juicy - almost sweet. I would rub the raw gem over the rough surface of the baguette, leaving a thick film of raw garlic goo -- making sure to cover every square inch of the surface. Then, I would drizzle my bread liberally with the local, fruity olive oil, and eat immediately - garlicky olive oil dripping down my chin. It was SO good! Needless to say, this experience, as I found out later, was near impossible to replicate at home .. at least in the mid-1980s. It turns out that the variety of garlic, the quality of the olive oil, and the freshness of the bread are all critical to the final taste this breakfast treat!
Anselmo's Organic Farm
outside of Seattle, specializes in growing garlic. They have over 70 varieties that they have been meticulously cultivating -- and are likely to have even more next year. Chuck -- the main garlic guy -- is an amazing source of garlic information. He would like nothing more that to eat and talk garlic all day long. He can actually recite, from memory, what each variety taste like. Unfortunately, Chuck is not available to talk our customers about each of his garlic variates -- so we have tried our best to describe each one in Chuck's own words. We have tasted many of them -- and will taste even more of them as the month goes by - we will continuously update and add new varieties as we get them.
Health Benefits of Garlic:
There is much debate as the the medicinal value of garlic. Although garlic has been used for hundreds of years to cure everything from athletes foot and the common cold, to heart disease and cancer, most of the recent studies have not properly controlled for the presents of alliin and ajoene - the two compounds that contain the most health benefits -- so the results, not surprisingly, are inconclusive. To me, it would also make sense that different garlic varieties and how garlic grown and harvested are likely to impact the amounts of these two compounds present in the garlic. So, where does that leave us?
Multiple scientific studies have shown that garlic can lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels, reduce high blood pressure, help coronary heart disease, help with muscle cramps after exertion, and cure many different types of fungal infections -- such as Athlete's foot and middle ear infections. Plus, there is some thought that garlic can also help in the reduction of certain cancers -- like colon and stomach cancer. And the anti-bacterial properties of garlic are accepted. So, what to do?
Throughout the garlic health controversy -- one thing seems pretty clear - that the health benefits depend on the consumption of whole, fresh garlic -- and lots of it. You can breakdown the garlic into its components and try to bottle it into a nice little pill -- but then, you might be missing something. So, just eat the real thing. But, I think you should make sure it the best tasting "thing" you can find.
Personally, I love the taste of good garlic (emphasis on "good" - not that stuff you get in the grocery store!) All the better that it might also be good for me, too. I think the Spaniards have the right idea -- start the day with a few cloves of fresh, raw, delicious garlic, a huge drizzle of fresh extra virgin olive oil, and whole grain bread. As I found out years ago when I returned from my studies in Spain -- the better the ingredients, the better the outcome -- in more ways than one. So, keep the vampires at bay -- for a long, long time. Eat Garlic! Live Well!
(c) ChefShop.com, 2010