Garlic is an ingredient that almost anyone
who does any cooking at all, and absolutely everyone who enjoys cooking,
would not be without.
History : Garlic is known to have
been first grown in around 3200 BC. Inscriptions and models of garlic
found in the pyramids of ancient Egypt testify to the fact that garlic
was not only an important foodstuff but that it had ceremonial
significance as well. The Greeks and Romans likewise believed garlic to
have magical qualities. Warriors would eat it for strength before going
into battle, gods were appeased with gifts of garlic, and cloves of
garlic were fastened round the necks of babies to ward off evil. Hence,
vampire mythology has ancient precedents.
The Greeks and Romans also used garlic for
its therapeutic qualities. Not only was it thought to be an aphrodisiac
but also it was believed to be good for eczema, toothache and snake
bites. Although garlic found its way all over Europe - vats of butter,
strongly flavored with garlic, have been found by archaeologists working
in Ireland which date back 200-300 years - fundamentally, its popularity
today derives from our liking for Mediterranean, Indian and Asian food,
in which garlic plays a very important part.
Nutrition : As is often the case,
what was once dismissed as an old wives' tale is, after thorough
scientific inquiry, found to be true. Garlic is a case in point; most
authorities accept that it has many therapeutic properties. The most
significant of these is that it lowers blood cholesterol, thus helping
prevent heart disease. Also, raw garlic contains a powerful antibiotic
and there is evidence that it has a beneficial effect against cancer and
strokes, and increases the absorption of vitamins. Many garlic
enthusiasts take their garlic in tablet form, but true devotees prefer
to take it as it comes.
Varieties : There are numerous
varieties of garlic, from the large "elephant" garlic, to small tight
bulbs. Their papery skin can be white, pink or purple. Color makes no
difference to taste but the particular attraction of the large purple
bulb is that they make a beautiful display in the kitchen. As a general
rule, the smaller the garlic bulb, the stronger it is likely to be.
However, most garlic sold in shops is not classified in either shape or
form (unless it is elephant garlic) and in practice your will simply
pick up whatever you need, either loose, in bunches or on strings.
Garlic grown in a hot climate is likely to be the most pungent, and
fresh new season's garlic has a subtle, mild flavor that is particularly
good if it is to be used raw, for example, in salads and for dressings.