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Garlic (Allium sativum)
Alliaceae (onion family)
Central Asia, but cultivated all over the world.
Used plant part
Bulb (subterranean reserve structure derived from a leaf). There is minor use for fresh garlic leaves.
Strong and characteristic odour, which is markedly different in fresh and fried state. The pungency of fresh garlic vanishes after cooking or frying.
Garlic contains a wealth of sulphur compounds; most important for the taste is allicin (diallyl disulphide oxide), which is produced enzymatically from alliin (S-2-propenyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide) if cells are damaged; its biological function is to repel herbivorous animals. Allicin is desactivated to diallyl disulphide; therefore, minced garlic changes its aroma if not used immediately. In the essential oil from steam destillation, diallyl disulphide (60%) is found besides diallyl trisulphide (20%), diallyl sulfide, ajoene and minor amounts of other di- and polysulphides.
Garlic flower cluster
Garlic is one of the most popular spices in the world, and wherever it was introduced to, it met enthusiastic approval. It is reported that in ancient Egypt, the workers who had to build the great pyramids were fed their daily share of garlic, and the Bible mentions garlic as a food the Hebrews enjoyed during their sojourn in Egypt.
In Europe, garlic has been a common spice since the days of the Roman Empire, and it was extensively used from India to East Asia even before the Europeans arrived there. After the Age of Exploration, its use spread rapidly to Africa and both Americas. Curiously enough, in our days Northern Europeans seem to be the only ones who look on it with suspicion because of its strong smell, which is sometimes felt unpleasant.
Raw garlic may also be pickled in vinegar or olive oil (however, there is a risk for botulism). Since some of garlic's aroma is extracted by the liquid, pickled garlic is usually very mild. Herbal vinegar is commonly made with one or two garlic cloves per liter vinegar.
Usage of fried or cooked garlic is, however, much more common. On heating, the pungency and strong odour get lost and the aroma becomes more subtle and less dominant, harmonizing perfectly with ginger, pepper, chiles and many other spices. Therefore, it is an essential ingredient for nearly every cuisine of the world.
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