A Long History
Roman soldiers were fed it for strength, Greek athletes ate it for stamina, the Egyptians took it with them to the afterlife, Ancient Chinese used it to aid digestion and Ancient Indian healers used it to treat leprosy. But is there any scientific credence to garlic's supposed health benefits?
The most recent studies of garlic's healing powers have reported antibacterial properties, blood- sugar lowering, hypolipidemic (cholesterol lowering), antiplatelet-aggregation and anti-tumour effects. Importantly, garlic's health benefits are best when garlic is eaten regularly and as fresh as possible.
The Technical Bit
To get technical, as well as high selenium content, garlic also contains health-giving vitamins such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and vitamin E. Yet what makes garlic really unique is the high level of specific sulphur compounds in the form of non-protein amino acids including alliin, which is largely responsible for the specific flavour of garlic. When garlic is crushed, chopped or disrupted in any way, this alliin sulphur compound is hydrolysed by the enzyme alliinase to create complex organosulphur compounds. These are unstable and reactive compounds whose aroma is typically associated with freshly crushed garlic. The main compound, Allicin, is found in crushed garlic juice and in the air above chopped garlic. Allicin has been the substance proposed to have the unique health giving properties when studied biochemically. Due to its unstable nature however, it has a very limited shelf life and cannot be held constant. For this reason, to benefit from the health giving properties of garlic, consuming it freshly crushed or chopped is best.
For the real alliophiles (garlic lovers in other words) eating raw garlic presents no particular challenge. If you're less keen on the raw stuff, there are plenty of recipes to which you can add garlic towards the end of the cooking process or incorporate raw garlic and make it more palatable. Salad dressings, crushed garlic stirred through soups or stews, bruschetta, garlic freshly crushed into olive oil as a dipping oil or simply a few slices added to your favourite sandwiches all help to increase yourdaily garlic intake.
So, get your garlic on for 2017 and reap the benefits of this wonderful little gift of nature.