Food Science: Garlic
Garlic is kind of a wonder-food, but it’s also a conversational one-trick pony. Mention it to someone, and you’ll doubtlessly be met with remarks about its odor and its proven ability to drive others away. I personally think this kind of response is kind of a vulnerable personality defense mechanism, because no one is that socially involved that they are constantly worried about garlic breath. But, looking past that, garlic is amazing and fairly misunderstood as a plant.
First off, garlic contains an enzyme called alliinase. It also contains a sulfoxide compound called alliin. When you chop fresh garlic, the alliinase turns the alliin into allicin, which is responsible for the distinct smell garlic has. These compounds are closely linked to syn-propanethial s-oxide, the compound found in fresh onion that makes you cry. However, its role within garlic doesn’t stop there. Allicin is a naturally occurring:
And that’s pretty crazy. In fact, allicin is so potent that if taken during the start of a cold or flu, it can be as effective as taking Tamiflu. That’s not to say you should skip the doctor when you’re sick, but garlic helps and unlike a lot of weird homeopathy remedies that don’t work, it has a lot of science to back its efficacy!
But I’m not going to lie, garlic is kind of gross to eat raw. Even if you eat just a nibble of a clove, it can burn like crazy and who wants that? During the winter, I wanted to step up my garlic consumption without feeling its taste constantly on my palate, overwhelming the flavor of everything else I ate that day, so I started to experiment with it a lot more.
1. Mix With Honey and Tea
Mince a clove and mix it with a few tablespoons of raw honey (raw is crucial here, get the real stuff, it’s worth it). Let this mixture stand for about 10 minutes. Raw honey has a lot of cool stuff in it too (but that’s for another post) and the enzymes in it will help bring out the garlic’s oil, which contains the allicin, better. You can eat this with a spoon straight or mix it in with a cup of green tea if you want to look like a classy debutante from 1920s England.
What ends up happening here is you will end up with subtle notes of spice that are held together by the sweetness of the honey with a bit of your tea’s flavor as well. If you feel like a clove is too much (and that’s perfectly understandable), 1/4 or 1/2 of a clove is just as good.
Side note: Don’t feed raw honey to little babies. Honey has a bacteria in it that babies don’t have a developed immunity to. However, this should be great for you to help you kick your cold (or other illness)’s butt.
2. Eat an Apple Afterwards
Eat a fresh apple after eating garlic to avoid garlic breath. Apples contain polyphenols, which break down any leftover allicin hanging around in your mouth and esophagus.
3. Cut It and Cook It Properly to Match Your Personal Tastes
Sadly, taking garlic supplements don’t give you quite the health punch as fresh garlic does. This is because allicin has a pretty short shelf life, so you may get some allicin out of a enteric-coated pill but it won’t be nearly as good for you as freshly peeled garlic.
When cooking with garlic, mincing your garlic is the best way to avoid pungent flavoring and garlic breath while getting the most of its oils. There’s a lot of different ways you can prepare garlic. A garlic press will cause your garlic to lack subtlety in both flavor and overall kick because it releases all of its oils in one crushing blow. That’s not to say there isn’t a time or a place for it, but if you don’t want your garlic to take the wheel in your food’s flavor profile, you might want to stick to mincing or at most, crushing with the flat blade of a chef’s knife. The finer your mincing, the more potent the garlic will be because you’ll start to release more of its oils.
4. Make Your Garlic Sweet
That’s crazy talk, right? But no, black garlic is the jam if you want a milder, sweeter version of garlic. Black garlic’s been used for ages in Korea, so it’s not a new thing by any means.
Making black garlic can be a nightmare though, so if you’re not up for playing kitchen mad scientist, you can pick it up from Trader Joe’s or on Amazon (side note: Make sure you get it dry, not jarred in olive oil, which will drastically change its flavor profile).
If you do want to play kitchen scientist, you’ll need to place about 3-10 unpeeled garlic heads into a rice cooker or a slow cooker on low heat (140 degrees Fahrenheit, or in the 120-150 range) for 10 to 40 days. And no, that is not a typo, which is why you want to make huge batches of the stuff if you’re going to do it. It’s not fast!
This process will turn your garlic pure black.I’ve had some conversations with friends about what exactly is happening in this process and the general feeling here is trepidation and uncertainty. So, let me offer reassurance… garlic is really hard to go bad if kept in the right environment. Because it has those magic ingredients, alliinase and alliin, which have anti-fungal properties, it has a lot of self-preservation working in its favor.
Unless your garlic dries out its enzymes, it’s almost impossible for it to grow mold or fungus. It may grow sprouts, but the garlic is still good provided you trim those sprouts before cooking it. One time, when I was young and living in South Carolina in an old house during my college years, I had a misplaced bulb of garlic start to ferment in the hot summer heat. The whole house smelled terrible while I spent days searching for it. Don’t let this happen to you!
Garlic has a magic temperature range from around 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit where it “ferments” (it’s incorrect to say it ferments since it doesn’t but you’ll hear this word a lot when talking about black garlic). Any cooler and you’re just slowly drying it out, any hotter and you’re cooking it!
You don’t need to include any other ingredients for this to happen because garlic has its own sugar and amino acids that will produce an ingredient called melanoidin, which a lot of people say is responsible for the garlic “caramelizing” itself, which is another word you’ll often hear the process of making black garlic referred to as, rather than fermentation.
You may, however, know melanoidin from a completely different place. It’s commonly found in the world of brewing in Bavarian style chocolate or caramel wheat ales. Anyway, black garlic is basically super garlic. The fermentation brings out higher concentrations of a compound called s-allylcysteine, which helps your body absorb allicin, that antimicrobial compound we talked about earlier.
After staying in your rice cooker for a long time, you should split the heads into their individual cloves (but don’t peel the cloves) and allow them to dry for a few days. Depending on how they’re cooked, you’ll experience different levels of sweetness. Some that I tried from Amazon tasted more like figs. The black garlic I made myself tasted like black cherries.
There’s a lot of ways you can use black garlic in your cooking, but I personally know that black garlic works really well with acidity, so what I ended up doing was pureeing it and then creating a reduction with it using balsamic vinegar. I then used this reduction with roasted beets–this played up the flavor of the beets like you would never imagine. I’ve heard tale that you can also use this same type of reduction to make an incredible stir fry.
If you’re really far removed from the culinary world and don’t know much about reductions: If you’ve ever been in a fancy restaurant and saw an artistic drizzle on the plate for your savory entree, there’s a good chance that was a reduction. A reduction is a thickened, more flavorful version of something that starts off as a thinner liquid–artistic drizzles are often the easiest way to plate something like this without it looking like a mess 🙂
I love garlic. It’s spicy, unique, and when used correctly in your culinary adventures, extremely tasty. It doesn’t seem to be a commonplace staple in American cuisine, but branch out in any direction of ethnic cuisine and you’ll immediately find it, you’ll find it easily. It’s also one of many plants recognized by the medical community as a superfood. Eat it now before you get sick.