Fresh garlic consists of several cloves that can be individually separated from their paper-thin white peel. Each clove of garlic is also encased in its own individual wrapper, often multi-layered depending upon variety. Regardless of variety though, it is best to choose garlic with supple, firm bulbs and roots still intact as this is a sign of freshness. Often referred to as the "stinking rose," whole garlic actually has a very mild allium scent. Once the cloves are crushed or pressed however, enzyme compounds are released, producing a sulfur based molecule known as allicin, which is responsible for giving garlic its renowned pungent aroma and flavor.
Garlic, botanically known as Allium Sativum, is a member of the lily family along with chives, shallots and onions. Amongst cultivated plants, it is known to have one of the largest genomes. Garlic is the common name dedicated to hundreds of varieties, which can be classified as hardneck or softneck types. Of these types, softneck varieties are most common as they are easier to grow, less particular about growing conditions, slower to bolt and generally produce more cloves per bulb. They are the supermarket varieties that people simply know as garlic. Hardneck garlics are generally quite particular about their growing conditions, and once harvested, have a very short shelf-life, which is uncommon for softneck garlic. In general 98 percent of common white garlic found in the supermarket is one of two types, California Early and California Late.
All varieties of garlic possess antibiotic properties to some forms of bacteria, viruses and intestinal parasites. Plants in the garlic family lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may also be used as a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory agent, an expectorant or a decongestant. Both garlic and onions contain allylic sulfides, which are being studied for their ability to help prevent certain types of cancer and coronary disease.
Garlic is a staple pantry item in kitchens throughout the world. It can be eaten in a variety of ways including raw or cooked. Raw garlic tends to be stronger than cooked; and crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases even more of its oils providing a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic can be a supporting ingredient in numerous dishes, but does especially well as the central flavor in compound butters, dressings, sauces and salts. Roasting garlic will enhance its flavor and add a subtle sweetness. Pair garlic with rich ingredients and those that can readily absorb its flavor. Acidic fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, tomatillos and citrus are also enhanced by garlic's presence. To store keep garlic in a cool dry place. Depending upon where it has come from and how long it has previously been stored conventional garlic will keep one to four months.
Garlic has long been used by a variety of cultures such as Greek, Italian, Chinese, Egyptian and European for its culinary, medicinal and spiritual properties. Garlic was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen and it is recorded that it was consumed by the slaves that built Khufu's pyramid at Gizeh. In the Jewish Talmud it is suggested that couples eat garlic on the Sabbath so that they can know one another better, a nod to garlic's historical relevance as an aphrodisiac.