Friday, 8 August 2014

Know Your Ingredients: Garlic

Garlic growing in a container. Image from Creative Commons
In quantities large or small, garlic packs a punch, and is one of the most versatile culinary additions around. Garlic is used in many savoury dishes to add flavour. It’s one of humanities oldest aromatic additions to cuisine, having been in use for some 7000 years, It’s an integral part of Asian, Mediterranean, African and European cuisine. Garlic was used as both food and medicine when the Great Pyramid was being built in the Giza plateau. Greek and Roman physicians prescribed it as a cure-all for everything from parasitic infections to pulmonary tuberculosis.

The ancient physicians weren't too far off the mark. Both animal studies and small trials on human subjects show that garlic has good cardiovascular benefits by reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also has an effect on blood clotting rates and people taking prescribed anticoagulants, such as Warfin, should check with their doctor or pharmacist to see if there are any concerns about drug interaction.

Some quick tips about this wonderful seasoning:

  • Raw garlic is the strongest of all its forms. If you’re looking for a milder taste, it can be blanched, sautéed or roast – each technique giving a different nuance to the overall taste.
  • Elephant garlic, the great huge bulbs we can buy at grocery stores, isn't garlic at all. It’s actually part of the Lily family. 
  • Scapes are the curly green cutting from the maturing garlic plant. They are slightly milder than garlic cloves, but still with the same flavour. They are nice raw in hummus, spreads, or salads and add nice flecks of colour. Try our Garlic Scapes and White Bean dip 
  • Fresh garlic is a rare find. It is garlic used within the first week or two after it's harvested from the ground. Most garlic that we purchase is cured by letting it dry for several days. This allows it to be stored longer. Garlic should be kept in a cool dark place (and used before it moulds or begins to sprout.)
  • Keep in mind that garlic burns quickly in a frying pan, so cook it at a low temperature and/or for a short time before adding more ingredients. If garlic overcooks, it takes on a very bitter taste that will permeate the entire dish. 
  • Powdered garlic is simply cured garlic that has been further dehydrated, then powdered. It tends to be MORE pungent than cured garlic bulbs, so use sparingly, and taste your dish often.


If you find yourself with some extra bulbs and have some room to garden, growing garlic is easy peasy! Every single clove you plant will give you a whole bulb! In the fall of the year, break up a bulb of garlic into individual cloves. Simply push the clove into the soil a couple of inches, blunt end pointing down. Cover them with mulch and wait until spring. Come the warmer weather, brush away the mulch and compost when you find shoots. Once the curly scapes start winding up out of the plant, be sure to trim (and use!) them. This pushes the plant to put it’s energy into growing a nice big bulb. Harvest the remainder of the plant when the leaves turn yellow. Lay them out until the think skin around the bulb becomes papery, then store them in a cool dark place until ready to use!

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