Celebrate the flavor of garlic during National Garlic Month. Garlic is closely related to onions, shallots, scallions, chives and leeks, since they all are members of the allium family. Garlic is rich in nutrients especially vitamins A, B1, B6 and C as well as potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese and selenium.
Garlic is known for its pungent smell, on your hands and your breath. The smell can be removed from your hands by running them under cold water while rubbing a stainless steel object. Chewing on fresh mint or parsley leaves, apples or lettuce after eating garlic can neutralize the sulfur compounds that cause the odor and minimize “garlic breath.”
These sulfur compounds are made from the active ingredient, allicin, which is thought to be responsible for garlic’s health benefits. Allicin is formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. To get the most health benefits, let the garlic sit on the cutting board for at least 10 minutes before cooking it.
Garlic has a long history of popularity for its taste as well as its health benefits, dating back to Greek and Roman times. Health benefits often associated with garlic include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced risk of cancer, an improved immune system and anti-inflammatory effect. Not all of these claims have strong research to support them. Many of the studies have used various forms of garlic such as fresh, supplements or oil; while others have looked at overall intake of allium-family vegetables. Many small studies show promising results for continued research.
The strongest evidence of a health benefit is the association between garlic intake and heart health, specifically reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure. It is not intended to replace medication but may be a complement. However, be sure to check with your health care provider before increasing garlic in your diet or taking garlic supplements. They may interfere with some medications, especially blood thinners. A word of caution: some people are allergic to garlic or develop indigestion after eating it.
When purchasing garlic, select firm, tight, heavy bulbs. Avoid ones with dry skin, sprouting or dark areas. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. A single bulb may contain 10-20 cloves, depending on its size. Store unbroken garlic bulbs in a cool, dry place and it will keep for 3 to 4 months. Once the bulb is broken, the individual cloves will only stay fresh for 5 to 10 days. You can also store whole garlic in the refrigerator until ready to use. Leftover minced or peeled garlic can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or the freezer up to 1 month without losing flavor. Purchase garlic in small amounts to avoid keeping it too long, the fresher garlic has more concentrated active ingredients for flavor and health.