Garlic is a species in the onion family. Its close relatives include the onion, the shallot, and the leek. Garlic has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavour that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.
Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavour, as a seasoning or condiment or for its medicinal properties. It is a fundamental component in many or most dishes of various countries. The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with cooking methods. It is often paired with onion and ginger.
A large number of sulphur compounds contribute to the smell and taste of garlic. Allicin has been found to be the compound most responsible for the "hot" sensation of raw garlic. The process of cooking garlic removes Allicin, thus mellowing its spiciness. When eaten in quantity, garlic may be strongly evident in the diner's sweat and breath the following day. This well-known phenomenon of "garlic breath" is alleged to be alleviated by eating fresh parsley.
It is available in very large quantities in all countries in many forms as raw fresh garlic in singles or as bundles, in the form of garlic pills and even odourless pills and capsules.
In cooking, garlic is most often used as a seasoning or a condiment, and is believed to have some medicinal value, notably against hypertension. When crushed or finely chopped it yields Allicin, a powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal compound. One raw garlic clove when finely minced or pressed releases more flavour than a dozen cooked whole cloves. When garlic cloves are cooked or baked whole, the flavour mellows into a sweet, almost nutty flavour that hardly resembles any form of pungency. An easy rule of thumb to remember regarding the potency of the flavour of garlic is: The smaller you cut it, the stronger the flavour. Chopping finely and/or pressing a clove expose more surfaces to the air, causing a chemical reaction to produce that strong aroma.
Garlic has long been used by many cultures to support a variety of health conditions. Olympic athletes in ancient Greece chewed a clove at the start of a competition, believing it increased their stamina. It was once used to help protect one from the Bubonic Plague and to ward off evil. For thousands of years, garlic has been one of the most popular medicinal herbs, in spite of the legendary myth that garlic will ward off vampires. Garlic is considered to be nature's very own antibiotic. Unlike most antibiotics, garlic will not deplete the body of flora, and is considered to be the cure-all herb because of its effectiveness on the entire body.
Popularly used as a digestive aid, garlic increases bile production while enhancing digestion and reducing stomach gases. Garlic is a source of selenium, which must be present in the body for proper immune response, and which acts as an antioxidant in combination with vitamin E. Rich in potassium, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A & C, garlic is commonly used to fight infection, increase circulation and help prevent cardiovascular disease. Garlic has been known to detoxify the body by cleansing the kidneys and increasing urine flow. Furthermore, garlic's healing properties make it an ideal agent for fighting colds and flu, bacteria, and fungi. Garlic has also been used for lowering cholesterol, reducing high blood pressure, and treating respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma.
Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Regular and prolonged use of therapeutic amounts of aged garlic extracts lower blood homocysteine levels, and has shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. People taking insulin should not consume medicinal amounts of garlic without consulting a physician.
In modern naturopathy, garlic is used as a treatment for intestinal worms and other intestinal parasites, both orally and as an anal suppository. Garlic cloves are used as a remedy for infections (especially chest problems), digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush.
Known adverse effects of garlic include halitosis (non-bacterial), indigestion, nausea, emesis and diarrhoea. Garlic may interact with warfarin, antiplatelets, antihypertensive, Calcium channel blockers, hypoglycemic drugs, as well as other medications. Consult a health professional before taking a garlic supplement or consuming excessive amounts of garlic. Garlic can thin the blood similar to the effect of aspirin.