Garlic (Allium sativum), a pungent and flavorful member of the lily family, has been a cornerstone of worldwide cuisines for centuries due to its prominent taste and aroma and for its ability to accent and amplify other flavors. Garlic's near universal appeal is demonstrated by the key role it plays in diverse cuisines such as Chinese, German, Greek, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Peruvian and Thai.
Garlic has a long and storied history that spans more than 7,000 years, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. It has been used to treat a myriad of medical conditions and symptoms, including lethargy, stomach issues, leprosy and even parasites. One of its most basic uses, however, has been as an antibiotic, as garlic has been shown to kill bacteria, fungus, parasites and viruses.
It has been thought that the ancient Egyptians were the first to cultivate garlic, believing that it would keep pyramid workers healthy for work. Clay shaped as garlic has also been found in tombs with dead pharaohs, indicating the importance of the bulb in Egyptian culture. But the Egyptians were not the only ones to recognize the usefulness of the pungent plant; the Greeks and Romans used garlic as a curative treatment for many ailments and wounds as well. The Cherokee tribes were also known to use garlic as a cough medicine.
In modern times, research has shown that garlic can help lower LDL cholesterol levels without lowering healthy HDL cholesterol, as well as possibly lowering blood pressure. Research is also showing that garlic may also help regulate blood sugar levels.
Garlic has also had a storied history as a spiritual item. In Europe, garlic has been used as a ward for evil creatures, either worn around the neck or rubbed on surfaces to keep demons at bay. In Hinduism and Jainism, garlic is considered an aphrodisiac and is avoided during religious festivals by the devout.
As a cultivated crop, garlic is relatively uncomplicated and easy to grow. It can be grown year-round in milder temperatures, but can also be grown in cold climates as long as it does not freeze. The crop does well in loose soil with plenty of sun, but will also thrive in many types of soil condition and PH levels.
While the garlic bulb is the portion of the plant most commonly cooked with, the leaves and flowers are also edible. The green stem (sometimes called a garlic scape, spear, or top) of the immature version is also edible and is often described as having the shape of green onions with the distinct flavor of garlic.
There are multiple common varieties of this popular cooking ingredient, including Porcelains, Rocamboles, Purple Stripes and Artichoke garlic. They vary in size, color, yield and flavor intensity. A common misconception is that elephant garlic is part of the garlic family, but it is actually related to leeks.
Garlic is an elemental ingredient of cooking throughout the world, as its spicy, sharp and pungent nature lends itself to many savory applications. One of the more famous preparations is French aioli, an emulsification of garlic, egg yolks and olive oil that is used as a rich, strongly flavored sauce. It can be pickled, fermented and dried and used in almost every ethnic culinary preparation.
Garlic Powder is an easily storable, convenient way to add garlic flavor and aroma to recipes. Powdered, dried garlic has all the flavor of fresh garlic in creamy, off-white colored granules. Garlic Powder can be added to recipes in place of fresh garlic to achieve the same flavor.