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The Joys and Health Benefits of Great Garlic (Article)

by: Eliza Ward

Great garlic is a life-changing experience. 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're preparing. And when cooked, the garlic flavor, although often strong, can be mellowed and slightly sweet. 

So, if your eating your garlic raw - well, you better know what you're eating. Tastes can range from bitter, to sweet, to hot and spicy. What you want and need, if you're 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 and days. Bitter is a great way to ruin a great dish.

Unfortunately, if you can only find garlic in your local grocery store and you don;t have any farm stands or garlic growers where you live, 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's common here in the US 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 hardneck and softneck garlic grown in the world - even though most of what we buy here is of one particular variety. But in Europe, it's 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 local Sevillan "bagette", sliced in half and toasted, and then served with huge cloves of juicy garlic, and a side of fresh, locally-pressed 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 toasted bread, 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! 
Garden Treasures Organic Farm in Arlington Washington, north of Seattle, specializes in growing everything organic, including garlic. They have over 10 varieties of hardneck garlic that they have been meticulously cultivating - and are likely to have even more in the years to come. we have tried our best to describe each one in Georgie's own words. We have tasted most of them -- and will taste even more of them as the month goes by - we will continuously update product descriptions as we learn more, and add new varieties as we get them.

Today, Garden Treasures grows on 4 parcels of land in Arlington, Washington - about 50 miles north of Seattle, and about 2 miles down the road from their lovely Farm Store.   Their farming fields are host to very rich bottom valley soil which is certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.  Totalling more than 40 acres, the have additional greenhouses and enough room to rotate crops in a never-ending effort to maintain control over weeds and improve soil nutrition over the year.  They always plant riparian buffers, and focus on increasing the biodiversity in their fields in an approach to balance nature and farm. 

Click here, to see all the variaties of Hardneck Garlic that Farmer Mike grows and sells. All organically grown. All properly harvested, dried and stored.  
The Health Benefits of Garlic:
There is much debate over 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 as well. 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 widely 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 out of something - and very delicious. So my advice - just eat the real thing. But, I think you should make sure it's 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 hardneck 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 unhealthy vampires at bay - for a long, long time. Eat Garlic! Live Well!

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