What is garlic?
Garlic can lift many dishes into another realm of flavour. While most people love mashed potatoes, the aroma of skordalia – a creamy combination of crushed garlic, boiled smashed potatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and a splash of milk – will transport your imagination to a magical, idyllic Greek island.
Originating in central Asia, garlic has been around for thousands of years. It has been popular in Mediterranean cuisines since antiquity and records show that the ancient Egyptians used it as a food and medicine. The ancient Greeks used garlic 2,500 years ago to treat parasites, respiratory infections and digestion problems. Egyptian slaves were fed garlic to keep them strong while they built the pyramids.
European and Asian immigrants helped to make garlic popular in Australia, as it is a basic ingredient in many of their dishes.
A number of different types of garlic are available in Australia. These vary in size and colour and are grown in Australia or come from various parts of the world including California, China, Argentina and Spain.
White garlic has average-sized cloves and white skin. Purple garlic is similar to the white variety except that it has purple-coloured skin. Ball garlic has white skin but smaller cloves and a rounder shape than white garlic.
Why garlic is good to eat
Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin B6, which is involved in the regulation of blood metabolism and the function of your nervous system.
- It also contains minerals such as zinc (important for the regulation of your immune system), and selenium and manganese, which are involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function.
- Garlic contains sulfur compounds that may have the potential to prevent and treat disease.
- Energy – 100 g of garlic supplies about 500 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Garlic grows best in cool climates, with winter temperatures between 0 and 10 °C. To plant garlic, separate the head into individual cloves and place into the soil. Each garlic clove grows into a garlic head. The plant sprouts a long green stem and the garlic plant can grow up to a metre.
It takes between six and nine months before garlic is mature and ready for harvesting. It is time to pick your garlic when the leaves start to turn brown, dry out and droop. Gently pull the garlic out with a garden fork.
You will need to dry the garlic before it is ready for use. Spread the garlic heads in a well-ventilated area away from direct light for two to three weeks. Once the skin of the garlic is papery and dry it is ready to use in your cooking.
Select plump heads of garlic that have firm bulbs. Avoid choosing garlic with visible signs of damage such as bruising, or with soft or discoloured patches.
How to store and keep garlic
Store whole garlic bulbs in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area. Good quality garlic can keep for a number of months when stored this way. You can also peel individual cloves of garlic and keep them in an airtight jar in your fridge.
Do not place whole garlic in the fridge, as the cold, wet environment encourages the growth of mould.
How to use
- Make garlic butter to smear on warm crusty bread – chop garlic and blend in a food processor along with butter, pepper and a squeeze of lemon (refrigerate before using if you prefer).
- For a salad with a difference, roast a head of garlic and then toss the peeled cloves with goat’s cheese and ripe tomatoes and season with chopped fresh herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Serve garlic prawns as a quick and easy lunch or dinner – chop garlic and sprinkle on prawns, add oil, a splash of wine and a squeeze of lemon, cook in the oven and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs before eating.
- Make pesto sauce to serve with steaming pasta – blend chopped garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts in a food processor, mix with freshly grated parmesan cheese and enjoy.
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Better Health Channel
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