Halloween is approaching, and we’re starting to ward off vampires early here at Salt and Skillet! Garlic is a fantastic ingredient that is used in so many recipes for its aromatics and rich flavor. It’s distinct. Whether it’s on your date’s breath or in a pasta dish – you’ll know. Good or bad, this food works great with onions to provide fullness in a recipe, plus it has tons of other benefits as well! There’s a reason people have been eating garlic for thousands of years and putting up with potentially stinky breath!
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Where does garlic come from?
Garlic may have originally come from China, Egypt, and India, but is now grown here in the US as well! In fact, up to 90% of garlic grown in the US comes from California. It grows in a shallow garden, and tall green stalks shoot up from the earth to capture that sweet sunlight. The bulbs grow beneath the earth until they’re ready to be harvested.
Like onions, garlic is an allium vegetable (meaning it’s in the genus Allium). Also like onions, garlic grows in bulbs, however they look very different. The bulb consists of a grouping of cloves, similar to petals on a flower. Each clove, and the whole bulb itself, is covered in a papery, white skin. The skin is peeled away and the cloves are the part that are consumed, preferably after a bit of cooking (or you’ll be cringing, and so will everyone else around you!)
A special type of garlic is produced when it has gone through an aging process involving heat and humidity – black garlic! The cloves actually turn soft and a deep black color, and is popular in Japanese, Korean, and Thai cooking. It has a sweet, balsamic-y flavor, and won’t give you that terrible garlic breath!
While garlic is not nutritionally dense by any means, it does have beneficial properties as a “functional food.” Basically, it is used more for its medicinal health than nourishing our bodies with nutrients! It is an antioxidant (specifically through the antioxidant manganese, Vitamin C, and sulfurous compounds) and an anti-inflammatory. For years, garlic has been used to reduce the risk of cancer, especially of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach. Garlic also helps reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, hypertension (high blood pressure), and atherosclerosis (plaque in your blood vessels) because of its natural anticoagulant properties. Black garlic has twice the amount of antioxidants!
It feels silly to put a nutrition label here, because there really isn’t much to garlic. But, I’m a creature of habit and consistency, and so here you have it! You’ll see lots of zeroes, since the amount of some of these nutrients are soooo tiny that they don’t even count. But, there are a few calories provided by carbohydrates, so don’t pop roasted garlic cloves in your mouth all willy-nilly!
Purchasing and Storing Garlic
Fresh garlic (as a whole bulb) will provide the most nutritional benefit, but for convenience purposes, other forms are available. Garlic flakes, powder, paste, and minced garlic are all found in your grocery store.
Fresh garlic should be plump, firm, and dry. The skin shouldn’t be broken to where you can see the cloves. Damp, soft, or shriveled garlic is no good – don’t buy that bulb!
Fresh bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry place, either uncovered or loosely covered – but not completely confined. It’ll stay good for a whole month just hanging out on your countertops!
Any jars of garlic product should be refrigerated after opening.
Using Garlic in the Kitchen
Garlic is great sauteed real quickly with onions as a base for sauteed vegetables, and as a base for sauces or soups. It’s also great roasted!
When sauteeing garlic, remember to keep an eye on it – burned garlic has a powerful scent and doesn’t taste very good. It can burn easily, so keep heats low to medium, and constantly stir the garlic around until it becomes fragrant and golden.
To prepare fresh garlic, apply light pressure with the palm of your hand to peel away the top layers of skin. When you can see individual cloves, you can pluck them away depending on how many you need at the time. To peel individual cloves, place the clove on a flat surface, hold a chef’s knife sideways, and smash the flat end of the knife onto the clove with the palm of your hand. Yep, I’m totally serious. The garlic will easily crush, and the skin can be pulled away!
From here, you can use your knife to mince the garlic or roughly chop it, depending on what your recipe calls for. But, can I let you in on a secret? I spent a while mincing garlic with a knife and just ended up frustrated. I could never get the pieces as small as I wanted, and then I had garlic fingers for days. To save yourself the time and frustration of having to manually mince garlic, invest in a garlic press. Sure, you could just buy a jar of minced garlic, but the flavor won’t be quite the same, and you may not get all the nutritional benefits of it. It’s also more costly, since you’re paying for convenience.
I often joke that my garlic press is the thing I love most in my apartment. My husband uses the press and understands my love for it, and also understands that he has some competition.
The garlic doesn’t even need to be peeled to go into the press, either – it peels and minces all in one step. It just takes a little bit of strength, especially if it’s a huge clove. I use this Pampered Chef garlic press, and super highly recommend you invest in it! One more day of stinky garlic fingers and I was going to lose my mind. My garlic press gets used every time I cook and is a dream to clean. Seriously!
But wait! Garlic doesn’t always have to be minced. Many people really enjoy the flavor of roasted garlic. You can chop off the top portion of the entire bulb, exposing a cross-section of all the cloves. Drizzle with some olive oil and roast that bad boy, and you’ve got a poppable, delicious snack that you won’t believe is a clove of garlic. The flavor completely transforms!
But what about that smell!?
Many of us have been on the receiving end of a conversation with someone who has garlic breath. It’s not always pleasant, and it leaves some dishes to be big “No-Nos” on dates. Is there a way to combat that bad breath?
OR! Maybe you or someone you know hasn’t eaten garlic recently, and yet the smell is still on them. If you’re eating a lot of garlic, or eating it very often, you may not even realize you’ve got a certain air about you. But your friends will. My best friend is quite straightforward and has told me before that I stink – it hurts your feelings a little bit, but you’ll both get over it!
Here’s what’s going on: the compound that causes the odor is hanging around in your mouth, sure…but it stays in tact through digestion, then gets absorbed into your bloodstream. Once it’s there, your body does its thing and gets rid of things it doesn’t need – such as this stinky compound – by filtering through your skin (in sweat) and through your lungs (as the air you exhale). This is why you can stink of garlic for up to a day after even eating the good stuff!
So, what can I do to get rid of that garlic smell?
Munching on raw apples, lettuce, or mint leaves will help! The phenolic compounds in these foods help neutralize the garlicky vapors that are hanging around in both your mouth and your stomach after you’ve swallowed that delicious clove. You’ll need to act fast, though – munch those foods with phenolic compounds within a few minutes, before the garlic has a chance to get digested and absorbed into your bloodstream. Obviously, you won’t know exactly when that happens. But, the sooner the better – if you wait too long, those neutralizers won’t do any good!
So! Garlic! Any vampires reading have likely not made it this far – but you did! So, tell me: do you love to cook with garlic? Ever tried black garlic? Let me know in the comments below!