Gaaaaaarlic. G A R L I C.
There is the involvement of one Goody Garlick in this account from America of 2005 1680 of a witch trial, whose garlicky ways were brought up in her list of evil doings. 260 years later in Australia, Mediterranean migrants bringing garlic to a cuisine where bland was too good a word and a teaspoon of curry powder, dynamite. For their efforts, reminding us once again reactionaries are a) crap, and b) unfunny, they were called garlic munchers.
Garlic’s smell comes from a simple chemical reaction and the resultant active substance is allicin (diallyldisulfide-S-oxide). It’s part of the sulphur group and typically we associate it more with (egg sandwich) factory than olfactory. The smell/taste comes from the same way a cyalume stick creates light. Like many tiny cyalume sticks, cellular damage causes alliin (S-allyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide) to combine withthe enzyme alliinase. The reason for this (and I’m trying to avoid an anthropomorphic agency here) is to release the taste when the clove is eaten by an animal to repel it. The greater the damage the more intense the flavour, so in the kitchen, the more you chop, crush or grate, the more flavour is released. Pop a clove on you tongue, then try it with a spoonful of grated garlic. Yes? Relative strengths of garlic can be adjusted by how it’s treated. Most of us wouldn’t have it raw other than in a vinegarette, though it does make a kicking ramen condiment.
The medicinal effect are the usual mix of proven, unproven, and misinterpreted and overstated. It seems medicinal effects may not engage until after chopping and it’s been suggested that 10 minutes is a good amount of time for the beneficial effects of garlic to do their work. Garlic is a proven antibiotic (especially topical), and does have an effect of being an anti-coagulant, it regulates or lowers blood sugar and it does also have antioxidants and their associated effects. The right amount seems a clove a day or more but garlic, unlike chicken salt, is put on and in things which are good – fresh unprocessed foods. Use it regularly and the rest will follow.In a beautiful example of life’s trade offs, the goodness appears inextricably linked with the smell and the effective agent is too wily to isolate.
Now the smell. Well it can be helped in an obvious way. Islamic scholarship wisely reports that “whoever eats of [garlic and onion] should kill their stench by cooking them”. Now I don’t need to tell you that cooking, like for onions, mellows the garlic’s taste. Unless you burn it. I’ve been surprised after slow cooking a chinese dish using 20 garlic cloves, how mellow it was. Think also of the garlic used to lard lamb roasts. Slow roasted garlic, run through a sieve is superb. Or just eat it with a toothpick.
Getting it. I look for organic garlic as the simple fact is it’s better. Suggesting a more interesting life leads to a better plant. Dirt, Sun, and Water. Shouldn’t be too hard to spot the good one’s, though it’s hard to tell by smelling a whole bud, for reasons discussed and for these reasons it wiil keep. Storage is dark and ventillated but unless you’re off on a boat for three months, just buy a little often. Soft is bad, shoots are very bad. Local is good because the clock is ticking as soon as it comes out of the ground. Several months or no. Earlier, better. Grow your own. Plant the cloves at the end of summer, two inches deep, pointy side up.
It keeps vampires away no more than Ernie’s ear banana.
As for art, art has failed it. Few songs mention it at all, as every word it rhymes with it is rude (except for apparatchik and I don’t have my Billy Bragg songbook at hand). There is the scene in Goodfellas describing how to cut garlic thinly with a razor. I’m not sure if they were alluding to something here but razors will repel people if used properly (or improperly if using toilet paper to stop the bleeding and then forgetting about it).
Eat it. People don’t like the smell. Fuck ’em. Next thing it’ll be nose hair.
Best use? Bruschetta. A rub on some toasted bread with EVOO. Snap, Crackle, Pop.