Garlic is one of those ingredients that seems to be loved by almost everyone. From garlic bread to stir-fries, it’s clear that this bulb is popular for a reason. Cultures around the world seem to enjoy putting lots of it in their dishes. But why do people like garlic so much?
Garlic is versatile and adds a wonderful depth of flavor and aroma to many dishes. It’s associated with many health benefits like being a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties which may be why it has become so popular over the centuries.
In this article, I’ll explore the reasons why people like garlic so much and what benefits it offers. I will also discuss some of the myths about garlic, and debunk much of the information about this precious vegetable.
So read on to learn all you need to know (and lots you probably don’t) about garlic!
Why Does Garlic Taste So Good?
There’s no doubt that garlic smells amazing and this is due to a heady mix of chemicals called sulfides that are created when we crush or chop a clove before cooking due to a specific enzyme being released called alliinase.
Once exposed to the air this enzyme converts the naturally occurring alliin in the garlic into something called allicin which is known as a volatile compound as when we cook it, the molecules rise up into the air and fill our kitchen with a wonderful aroma.
As 80% of what we taste is due to our sense of smell, that same group of compounds is largely responsible for the way it tastes when we put it in our mouths as those same molecules go up into our noses.
The allicin also breaks down as it’s cooked which results in the garlic taking on a sweet, nutty flavor that compliments the fragrance of the ingredient beautifully.
The more you slice, dice, or mince the garlic, the more alliinase enzyme gets released resulting in the flavor becoming stronger and more pungent.
For that reason, recipes requiring bolder, more intense flavors often call for the garlic to be minced, whereas roasting with whole cloves imparts a more subtle flavor to the dish.
When And Why Did Humans Start Eating Garlic?
According to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, garlic has been around for about 5000 years and is believed to be one of the oldest horticultural crops in existence, and is an important part of human history.
Compelling historical evidence shows that the Babylonians were using garlic around 4500 years ago and the Chinese around 2000 years ago, so when someone says we have been using garlic for thousands of years, they are actually correct.
It has long been widely believed that garlic healed people of diseases, especially in ancient times, so it’s likely that people ate it to help cure various ailments.
It was probably not long before humans discovered that by cooking with it their food took on incredible smells and flavors so culinary use doubtless also stretches back for thousands of years.
There is increasing evidence that some of those legendary health benefits are actually true and that the compounds found in garlic can actually help lower blood pressure and offer antimicrobial properties, so these may cause us to crave garlic subconsciously when we need it without being aware of it.
Why Is Garlic So Good For You?
Garlic contains many phytochemicals and sulfur compounds according to the Phytochemical website and these are reported to have many therapeutic effects including antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, and even anti-cancer.
As we know, Allicin is the main compound that gives garlic its characteristic taste and smell but is also the one that provides a broad range of biological activities as it breaks down into various other organosulfur compounds.
The health benefits associated with garlic include:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease
- Fighting infections thanks to its antimicrobial properties
- Boosting the immune system
- Potentially helping to prevent certain types of cancer
- Helping to protect the brain from the effects of oxidative stress
- Warding off parasites, microorganisms, and insects
It’s important to note that while there is some evidence to suggest garlic offers these benefits to us, there is still much research to do before we know for certain.
Eating raw garlic may be the healthiest way – here are 12 Tasty Ways To Eat Garlic Without Cooking It.
What Culture Loves Garlic The Most?
The number one culture that loves garlic the most is without a doubt China, as the country commands around 75% of the world market based on physical terms.
Its vast size and large population mean there are many different types of cuisines with each province having its own unique style but a common thread is that fresh garlic is used in many dishes.
Garlic is also very popular in Indian culture with many of the country’s popular foods containing garlic in some form or other. Other cultures that also consume a lot of garlic include Bangladesh, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia.
Together these countries account for around 87% of garlic consumption around the world. See a breakdown of the countries which eat the most garlic.
Why Do We Not Like The Smell Of Garlic?
Although many of us love eating garlic, the stench of it afterward on our breath is off-putting for many to say the least.
And it’s not just the dreaded garlic breath that affects many people, the rank smell also seems to just emanate from our bodies, which is not surprising as it can get into our sweat and even our pee.
You may think that the same allicin chemical behind the more pleasant aromas when cooking is also responsible for the unwanted aftereffects. But the culprit is actually one of the four smelly compounds it breaks down into, called allyl methyl sulfide (AMS).
Unfortunately, this particular chemical can hang around in your body, literally like a bad smell, for a long time.
Eventually, we metabolize these compounds and the odor goes away, but for many people, this can take at least 2 days, sometimes longer if you’re really unlucky.
However, there are a few foods you can try that may come to your rescue according to some research by the Journal of Food Science. Eating apples, peppermint, or perhaps more surprisingly lettuce, can help reduce the strength of the garlicky smell on your breath considerably.
They work so well as they contain lots of phenolic compounds which bind themselves with the nasty sulfides making them too big to take to the air when you breathe out.
- Related: How To Reduce Garlic Taste In Your Food (5 Ways)
Finding out all about garlic and why it’s such a popular ingredient in many of the dishes we eat has been an education and if you found this article useful then it has been well worth it for me.
Despite being around for thousands of years, there’s still such a lot to learn about this superfood, and who knows where research will take us in the future.
One thing is for certain, and that is that the human race will continue to use garlic to make our food smell and taste amazing, even if we do suffer from some unwanted aftereffects sometimes.
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