It may or may not scare away vampires and hobgoblins, but garlic can ward off bad cholesterol and other health villains. This much-loved vegetable (yes, it's a vegetable) seasons cuisines around the globe. It's a low-fat, high-flavor powerhouse.
The Stinking Rose
The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans thought garlic made them stronger. The Egyptian slaves laboring to build the great pyramids were fed garlic and the Romans shipped it to the far reaches of their empire.
Later, garlic was a popular antidote against the plague sweeping Europe, which many believed was caused by supernatural forces. And it became a weapon against the most notorious demon of them all, Count Dracula.
Though garlic has a long history in kitchens around the world from India to Italy, it didn't become a popular ingredient in the United States until quite recently. In their book "Garlic, Garlic, Garlic", Linda and Fred Griffith explain that garlic was viewed as "low class." They credit Alice Waters, part of FoodFit's Chef's Network, for putting garlic on the American menu when she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971.
People have been using garlic for centuries to treat everything from dog bites to the common cold. During World War Two, due to their antibiotic properties, garlic poultices were put on wounds when drugs weren't available. Lately, a hard look has been given to garlic's ability to lower so-called "bad cholesterol" and to act as an anticoagulant like aspirin does.
The American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org) one of FoodFit's Resource Associations, said a review of 18 studies found that garlic can help lower cholesterol if you consume five or more cloves each day. ADA said garlic supplements did not produce the same results.
What to Look For
Garlic is available year round. Pick bulbs that are plump and firm and have dry, papery skin. Avoid garlic that has brown spots or green sprouts, two signs that it's old.
The three most common types at in the market are hearty American garlic, Mexican garlic and Italian garlic. The latter two have a pinkish skin and a milder flavor. Gigantic elephant garlic, which is actually a type of leek, has a milder flavor still.
How to Store
Keep your garlic in a cool, dry place, but never in the refrigerator. Whole bulbs will usually last a couple of months. Once they've been broken from the bulb, individual cloves are good for up to 10 days.
Garlic is so pungent you can flavor a salad by merely rubbing the bowl with a raw clove just before you add the greens.
When you're cooking garlic, be careful not to brown or burn it because it makes it taste bitter. You can keep a lid on garlic's intensity by using whole cloves. Slicing, crushing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and therefore produces a more robust flavor. It's these essential oils that leave the telltale smell on a garlic eater's breath. Some say chewing on parsley will help beat the reek!
Wow your tastebuds with FoodFit's great garlic recipes:
Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
Roasted Garlic and Soybean Hummus
Pizza with Red Peppers, Potatoes, Garlic and Mushrooms
Yuca con Mojo