The medicinal use of garlic was well documented by many of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations… including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and even the Chinese. In fact, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, often called the father of Western medicine, actually used to prescribe garlic to treat a variety of medical conditions. Modern science has recently confirmed many of these beneficial health effects.
We now know that most of the health effects of garlic are caused by one of the phytonutrients formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. This compound is known as allicin, and is also responsible for the distinct garlic smell.
Allicin enters our systems from the digestive tract and travels all over the body, where it exerts its potent biological effects. The catch is that if you do not prepare it correctly you will not get the great benefits that garlic has to offer.
So the question becomes how do I properly prepare garlic?
For maximum flavor and nutritional benefits, grow your own garlic, it is simple to grow and delicious beyond belief when it is fresh from your own garden! But if you must buy your garlic always purchase it fresh bulb form. Although garlic in flake, powder, pre-minced or in paste form may be more convenient, you will derive less culinary and health benefits from these forms. I know that it is far more convenient to purchase it already prepped but is it really worth sacrificing the health benefits for the mere sake of convenience?
Purchase garlic that is plump and has unbroken skin. Gently squeeze the garlic bulb between your fingers to check that it feels firm and is not damp.
Store fresh garlic in either an uncovered or a loosely covered container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. This will help maintain its maximum freshness and help prevent sprouting, which reduces its flavor and causes excess waste. It is not necessary to refrigerate garlic.
Peel garlic with a knife or alternatively, separate the skin from the individual cloves by placing a clove with the smooth side down on a cutting board and gently tapping it with the flat side of a wide knife. You can then remove the skin either with your fingers or with a small knife. If there is a green sprout in the clove's center, gently remove it since it is difficult to digest.
Chopping or crushing stimulates the enzymatic process that converts the phytonutrient alliin into allicin, a compound to which many of garlic's health benefits are attributed. In order to allow for maximal allicin production, wait at least 10 minutes before eating or cooking the garlic. Also observe this 10-minute "time out" period before adding any high acidic ingredient to the garlic (for example, lemon juice). Ingredients with a pH below 3.5 can also deactivate the enzymatic process.
Since crushing and chopping are the food preparation steps that activate garlic's enzymes, these steps can help you obtain many of garlic's special benefits. For example, research has shown that microwaving or boiling garlic in uncrushed, whole clove form will deactivate its enzymes, preventing these enzymes from working. For this reason, we recommend that you chop or crush the garlic cloves prior to heating. According to research on garlic preparation methods, it only takes 60 seconds of microwaving whole cloves to lessen some of garlic's health benefits. By contrast, many of garlic's health benefits (including its anti-cancer properties) are preserved if the whole cloves are crushed and allowed to sit for 10 minutes prior to cooking.
Calorie for calorie, garlic is incredibly nutritious, a single 1 ounce serving of garlic contains:
- Manganese: 23% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B6: 17% of the RDA.
- Vitamin C: 15% of the RDA.
- Selenium: 6% of the RDA.
- Fiber: 1 gram.
- Decent amounts of Calcium, Copper, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron and Vitamin B1
Garlic also contains trace amounts of various other nutrients. In fact, it contains a little bit of almost everything we need. All of this comes with a calorie cost of just 42 calories per ounce. You also get almost 2 grams of protein and 10 grams of carbs.
The simple fact is that for thousands of years, garlic was believed to have medicinal properties and we now have strong and conclusive scientific research to confirm it. And to think, it only took us 2000 years to catch up with what our ancestors knew instinctively!