Garlic has a long history of both culinary and medical use around the world, and is well known for its pungent flavour and scent, which vary depending on how (and if) the garlic is cooked.
Selection and storage
Garlic is available year-round in supermarkets, although fresh, local garlic tends to be far more flavourful. In Canada, according to Boundary Garlic Farm in Midway, B.C., garlic is best planted in the fall and harvested the following July or August, meaning the freshest local garlic will appear in markets in late summer. Well-cured, cleaned and stored garlic, they say, can keep for six to eight months or more.
When choosing garlic, look for firm, smooth heads with no soft cloves, broken skin or evidence of mold or mildew. Store in a cool, dry place -- not in the refrigerator, although a space slightly cooler than room temperature is ideal. Garlic purchased at the supermarket is best used within two to three months.
The health benefits of garlic aren't just folklore -- they're backed up by science, as well. For instance:
• A 2002 study from the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that men who consumed more than 10 grams a day of garlic or other allium vegetables (such as onion, leeks and chives) had a lower risk of prostate cancer than other participants in the study.
• Researchers from the University of Toronto have found that garlic can help fight both malaria and cancer.
• A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that people who regularly consume garlic (either raw or cooked) have a significantly lower risk of stomach and colorectal cancer than those who eat little or no garlic.
To get the best health benefits from garlic, make sure to eat it raw as well as cooked -- research is ongoing on how cooking garlic affects its healthful properties. And you may want to consider prepping garlic early to reap the most benefits. One study from Penn State suggests that letting garlic stand for 10 minutes after chopping or crushing it and before cooking prevents the deterioration of anticancer compounds.
Before using garlic, make sure to remove all the papery skin. An easy way to loosen the skin and make the garlic easy to peel is to squeeze the cloves by placing them on a cutting board and pressing with your hand or the side of a knife. When cooked, garlic, like onions, is typically crushed or minced and sautéed in oil at the beginning of a recipe, although since the flavour of garlic varies depending on cooking time, adding garlic at different times throughout cooking will ensure depth of flavour. Cloves and whole bulbs are also delicious baked. Raw garlic can be added to recipes minced or crushed, as well, or even eaten whole as a side to your meal. Garlic is also available pickled (see recipe below).