Garlic aficionados crush generous portions of it under the blade of their best kitchen knives, seek out extra potent varieties, and tend to use more than the recipe calls for. Those same people also bring a devil-may-care attitude to the odiferous emanations that often follow a garlic feast. They don’t call it the stinking rose for nothing, but garlic is worth it.
Having grown up in an Italian household, I’ve eaten my fair share of garlic over the years. The heat and sweet it brings to dishes is unparalleled in the gastronomic world, but garlic is more than just a palate pleaser. It is also a powerhouse in the medicinal plant world.
References to garlic as a medicine have been documented in 5000 year-old Sanskrit texts, and ancient Egyptians believed garlic was responsible for endowing their people with physical strength and endurance. Today we know garlic possesses anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties and studies suggest that it may protect against atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Garlic’s reputation as a cancer-fighting superfood has also earned it a prominent place at the dinner table. Observational studies suggest that people who eat garlic and onions – onions contain some of the same beneficial compounds as garlic – experience less cancers, especially cancers of the digestive system.
There are over 70 sulfur-containing compounds in garlic, allicin being one of the most well-studied, and the one that gives garlic its characteristic flavour. When activated, these compounds are thought to speed up the elimination of cancer-causing toxins and hinder cancer cell growth – great reasons to incorporate it into the diet whenever possible. Learn how to activate these compounds in the “Preparing” section below.
Aim to buy fresh bulbs of garlic whenever you can, ensuring that they are plump, dry, and firm to the touch, and buy from a local source when possible to ensure freshness. Here in southwest BC, our growers should see their first crop of fresh garlic in late summer, so look for it soon at your local farmer’s market.
Garlic in powder form, while convenient, won’t enhance your dishes with the same strong flavour as fresh garlic, and jars of pre-crushed garlic won’t provide the same health benefits as its freshly chopped counterpart.
Whole bulbs should be kept in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place and can keep up to two months, but avoid storing garlic in the fridge as there is too much moisture for it to keep well. Once a bulb is broken apart it won’t keep for more than a few days which is a great argument for cooking with it often.
If your garlic sprouts, you might want to compost it (or plant it). Sprouted garlic indicates it is past its prime. It can still be used but it won’t be nearly as flavourful or nutritious.
The beneficial compounds in garlic are active up to one hour of the clove being crushed or chopped, so ideally use it soon after you cut it up but first let the crushed clove sit for five or 10 minutes allowing the medicinal components to be activated.
As often as you can, use garlic in its raw form for maximum health benefits since cooking will significantly reduce its nutrient content.
Anyone unaccustomed to the sharp flavour of raw garlic can begin cooking with it by adding it into a recipe early on. As you become more accustomed to its flavour, add it closer to the end of cooking time until eventually you look forward to consuming it raw whenever you can. Some people even add garlic to their juicers.
Try this delightful recipe for pesto.
Christina Peressini CNP, RNCP Nutritionist/Program Assistant
My experience in InspireHealth’s two-day LIFE Program is what ultimately led to me becoming a nutritionist. I witnessed the transformation that newly found knowledge about food and nutrition had on all participants – not just those with a diagnosis. I started out at InspireHealth as a volunteer while attending Nutrition school and am thrilled to be a part of our enthusiastic team at Vancouver Centre.
In addition to my nutrition role, I assist in bringing our virtual programming to rural and remote parts of BC (and all across Canada as of January 2014). As a Powell River native, I know first-hand the isolation that can come from living in a small town, so delivering our important message to people in far flung places is a tremendous joy for me.