Inside Our Food

How to Get the Most Goodness From Your Garlic

Garlic has been used as medicine for centuries, and the latest research reveals that it is for good reason. But research also shows that we have been prepping our favourite herb wrong all along, and if we want to get the most from our clove, we need to rethink some of our favourite recipes.

The origins of garlic 

Originating in Middle-Asia and now widely cultivated across the globe, garlic has, across centuries and cultures, been celebrated for its culinary and medicinal properties. Legend states that cloves were fed to the pyramid-building enslaved people of Egypt, as well as to the gladiators of Rome and the Olympians of Greece. It has been heralded as a cure for the great plagues and, more recently, was used on the battle-front of world wars to prevent the infection of wounds.

Garlic health benefits: a centuries-old superfood

Scientific analysis has since provided clout to these claims, with studies suggesting that certain garlic-derived compounds have wide-reaching and varied health benefits, ranging from the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, 1,2,3 cancer 3,4  and nerve damage,1 to the treatment of genital herpes 1, 5 and UTI’s. 6 As if it that wasn’t enough to put garlic on a perennial pedestal, it is also a source of numerous vitamins – particularly C and B vitamins – as well as minerals including Phosphorous, Potassium and Selenium.1, 3

But just as it has been used as a medicine, garlic is enjoyed in food; whether it be in the dipping sauces of South East Asia or a Venetian Vongole, there is hardly a  cuisine in the world in which garlic does not play a prominent role.

The science behind garlic's aroma 

Garlic contains more than 200 potentially bioactive molecules, but one compound in particular, allicin, has been more widely studied and most heavily credited for both the herb’s remarkable medicinal properties as well as its tantalising taste.1, 7, 8

Surprisingly, however, a raw garlic bulb contains next to no allicin whatsoever; it is produced only when the bulb suffers from tissue damage (e.g. through chopping). At this point, the enzyme alliinase and the amino acid alliin, typically isolated from one another in separate cell compartments, come into contact and react, forming allicin. 9, 10, 11

Fun Fact: Allicin is garlic’s built-in insecticide, acting as a natural repellent against pests in the field. When a pest attacks, the tissue is damaged, and allicin is produced (like in the kitchen). But rather than tasting delicious or curing an STI, allicin can be deadly for the attacking pest.

Make the most of your clove

Surprisingly, it is not the quantity of garlic added to your food but rather what you do with it that matters most. Although I am very much of the ilk of increasing the recommended portion of garlic in any given recipe by (at least) a factor of three, it seems as though I may need to re-evaluate my priorities.

Should you slice, mince or grate your garlic?

Given that allicin only comes from damage to the cells, you need to inflict the most damage to obtain the most allicin. Whilst finely chopping, crushing with the back of your knife or pulverising with a pestle and mortar are all effective means, the least laborious method would be to zest or grate, such as with a Microplane. Within seconds, the solid clove will seemingly dissolve into a fine, fresh and particularly potent paste. Given that allicin is responsible for not just the flavour but also the aroma of garlic, your olfactory system is a pretty telling test for the efficacy of your chosen method.10

Leave your garlic alone

Many of us then make the mistake of adding the herb straight into our dish. But, numerous studies have found that you can get the most goodness out of your allicin by leaving the prepared garlic for ten minutes – so just as you would let a good wine breathe, leave your garlic to rest before adding it to the pan.12

What happens when you cook your garlic?

Another mistake we make is to cook our favourite herb. Many of garlic’s pharmacologically active compounds are heat sensitive-- independent of the preparation method. 99% of allicin is lost during the frying process, and just 60 seconds in the microwave has been shown to block the herb’s anti-carcinogenic effects completely. What’s more, although garlic’s contribution to our daily recommended intake of Vitamin C is modest at best (you would need to eat around 18-32 cloves of garlic to reach the NRV), it is worth noting that this potent antioxidant, like allicin, rapidly degrades in heat. Thus, if you want to avoid depleting garlic for (almost) all that it is worth, raw is best.12, 13, 14, 15, 16

After-dinner mint 

Whilst eating garlic raw might maximise health benefits, you will also be maximising the effect garlic has on your breath (and, with it, your social life). There is, however, an herb-y solution. Finish your garlic-heavy meal with raw parsley or fresh mint leaves; the chlorophylls will bind the notoriously smelly sulphur compounds, neutralising their odour.17

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  9. Locke (2018) “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Accessed 31 March 2019.
  10. Rybak; Calvey; Harnly (2004) “Quantitative Determination of Allicin in Garlic: Supercritical Fluid Extraction and Standard Addition of Alliin” Accessed 2nd April 2019
  11. Song & Milner (1999) “Heating garlic inhibits its ability to suppress 7, 12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-induced DNA adduct formation in rat mammary tissue” Accessed 6 April 2019.
  12. Song & Milner (2001) “The influence of heating on the anticancer properties of garlic” Accessed on 6 April 2019.
  13. Nicastro; Ross; Milner (2015) “Garlic and onions: Their cancer prevention properties”. Accessed 7 April 2019.
  14. “Vitamin C: Vitamins and Minerals”. NHS. Accessed 6 April 2019.
  15. Munch & Barringer (2014) “Deodorization of garlic breath volatiles by food and food components” Accessed 30 March 2019.
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