It might seem strange that I’m writing an article on garlic, but this is precisely why I revised and expanded this website. I wanted to be able to just explore the ingredients we use, simply to better understand the culinary origins of all these dishes we post here.
I picked garlic to launch this idea because it is my most favorite ingredient. If you haven’t noticed, I use it in almost everything I cook. It’s the basis for most Mediterranean cuisine, as well as used in Asian, African, and several parts of Europe.
Tracing its roots
Garlic has been mistaken by many as an herb, seasoning, or spice. In actuality, it’s an onion with its relatives being the shallot, leek, and chive. While one could eat garlic raw, it has more been kept in the notion of a flavoring.
The origins of garlic go back 6000 years as a plant native to Central Asia. The bulbs which are found at the base of the stem were mainly used as a medicine. Egyptians worshipped it, some believed its pungent smell would ward off evil spirits, and others saw it as an aid to fight illness, which is not far from the truth.
The cooks of Southern Europe had grown to cultivate and use garlic in their cuisine for a very long time, but surprisingly the plant never caught on with many Anglo-Saxon cultures until the early 20th century. In the United States, food snobs had turned their noses up at the idea of using garlic in cuisine, giving the plant nicknames such as “Italian perfume” or “Bronx vanilla”.
While it was illogical, the dislike for garlic was more about the vast amount of bigotry placed on those from the Mediterranean region back then. Nowadays, Americans consume around 250 pounds of garlic annually.
How to use garlic in cooking
I’m sure most of you reading this already know, but for those who do not, you first pull a few cloves off the garlic flower. Some like to crush it before peeling off the papery skin, others try to remove the skin first. There isn’t a right or wrong way.
The reason we crush garlic is to release the liquids found within the cloves. It’s like the acid you get when you cut an onion, only garlic isn’t as strong in that sense. Crushing the clove will smooth out the flavor and thus you get that nice start to your meal.
I usually like to then mince the clove up into bits. Some will just crush, remove the skin, and toss the crushed clove into the pot or pan. This manner is similar to how you use bay leaves, where you later fish the cloves out and toss them away. I’d suggest this thinking if you’re making a finer, more delicate dish, and thus want the pieces out. If the dish is more rustic, then mince the cloves and leave them in.
If the recipe calls for minced garlic sauteed in oil, be sure to not burn it. Burning will make the garlic taste bitter, and thus it might make your dish taste foul. Generally I notice when you start to place in other ingredients in with the garlic (after you let it cook for a minute or two), things work out fine.
The cool part about garlic is you can get it in a few forms. Most foodies will dismiss these and proclaim one should only use fresh garlic, but I beg to differ. Sometimes the fresh clove, even minced to a pulp, won’t work for all purposes, like spice rubs.
In the spice section of your grocer, you will often find granulated garlic and garlic powder. Both are made from dehydrated cloves and then ground into their respective textures. Granulated garlic will have a rougher texture similar to sugar or cornmeal, while garlic powder is finer like a flour. My personal favorite is granulated, simply because I feel it retains that garlic flavor better than the powder. Both dissolve easily in liquids, but I tend to get better results with granulated garlic.
There is also garlic salt, but I honestly would suggest you not use it. It’s merely garlic powder and salt mixed together, and I personally think you’re better off just combining a ground garlic with salt on your own.
Some like to roast garlic flowers in the oven, and then use the roasted cloves either as an ingredient or an appetizer on their own. In Korea, they’ve developed what is known as black garlic. It’s a fermented garlic flower that ends up gaining a sweet and syrupy taste, and it’s quite expensive to get.
Lastly, if you’re interested in garlic for medicinal purposes, you can get tablets of garlic in any health food store. While some cringe at the idea, I think they’re wonderful to take with vitamins when you have a cold or flu. Even if swallowing tablets of garlic isn’t for you, it’s definitely ideal to eat dishes rich in garlic if you’re sick.