AskDefine | Define garlic

Dictionary Definition



1 bulbous herb of southern Europe widely naturalized; bulb breaks up into separate strong-flavored cloves [syn: Allium sativum]
2 aromatic bulb used as seasoning [syn: ail]

User Contributed Dictionary



gārlēac, from gār ‘spear’ (in reference to the cloves) + lēac ‘leek’.


  • (UK) /ˈgɑːlɪk/
  • (US) , /ˈɡɑɻlɪk/, /'gA:(r)lIk/
    Rhymes: -ɑː(r)lɪk


  1. A plant of the genus Allium (related to the onion), having a pungent bulbous root much used in cooking. Scientific name: Allium sativum.

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Extensive Definition

Allium sativum'' L., commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion family Alliaceae.Garlic contains more fibers per square inch than any other plant. Its close relatives include the onion, the shallot, and the leek. Garlic has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.. A bulb of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. The cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes. The leaves, stems (scape) and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible and most often consumed while immature and still tender. The papery, protective layers of 'skin' over various parts of the plant and the roots attached to the bulb are the only parts not considered palatable.

Origin and distribution

The ancestry of cultivated garlic, according to Zohary and Hopf, is not definitely established: "a difficulty in the identification of its wild progenitor is the sterility of the cultivars."
Allium sativum grows in the wild in areas where it has become naturalised; it probably descended from the species Allium longicuspis, which grows wild in south-western Asia. The 'wild garlic', 'crow garlic' and 'field garlic' of Britain are the species Allium ursinum, Allium vineale and Aleum oleraceum, respectively. In North America, Allium vineale, known as 'wild-' or 'crow garlic', and Allium canadense, known as 'meadow-' or 'wild garlic' and 'wild onion', are common weeds in fields. One of the best known "garlics," the so-called elephant garlic, is actually a wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum).


Garlic is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates. In cold climates, cloves can be planted in the ground about six weeks before the soil freezes, and harvested in late spring. Garlic plants are not attacked by pests. They can suffer from pink root, a disease that stunts the roots and turns them pink or red. Garlic plants can be grown close together, leaving enough room for the bulbs to mature, and are easily grown in containers of sufficient depth.

Production Trends

Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic with approximately 23 billion pounds annually, accounting for over 75% of world output. India (4%) and South Korea (3%) follow, with the United States (2%) in fourth place, where garlic is grown primarily as a cash crop in every state except for Alaska. This leaves 16% of global garlic production in countries that produce less than 2% of global output.


Culinary uses

Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor, as a seasoning or condiment. The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. The parchment-like skin is much like the skin of an onion, and is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat cloves of garlic by dribbling olive oil (or other oil based seasoning) over them and roast them in the oven. The garlic softens and can be extracted from the cloves by squeezing the (root) end of the bulb or individually by squeezing one end of the clove.
Oils are often flavored with garlic cloves. Commercially prepared oils are widely available, but when preparing garlic-infused oil at home, there is a risk of botulism if the product is not stored properly. To reduce this risk, the oil should be refrigerated and used within one week. Manufacturers add acids and/or other chemicals to eliminate the risk of botulism in their products.
In Chinese cuisine, the young bulbs are pickled for 3–6 weeks in a mixture of sugar, salt and spices. In Russia and the Caucasus, the shoots are pickled and eaten as an appetizer.
It is widely used with kebabs, mezes and various meals in Turkish cuisine.
Immature scapes are tender and edible. They are also known as 'garlic spears', 'stems', or 'tops'. Scapes generally have a milder taste than cloves. They are often used in stir frying or prepared like asparagus. Garlic leaves are a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia, particularly Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Korean cuisines. The leaves are cut, cleaned and then stir-fried with eggs, meat, or vegetables.
Garlic is essential to several Mediterranean dishes. Mixing garlic with eggs and olive oil produces aioli ("garlic and oil" in Provençal). The Spanish variant does not use eggs. Garlic, oil, and a chunky base produce skordalia (from the Greek and Italian names of garlic). Blending garlic, almond, oil and soaked bread produces ajoblanco (ajo blanco is Spanish for "white garlic"). Le Tourin is a French garlic soup.
In Asia, garlic is fundamental to Korean and Thai cuisine. In Chinese cuisine, it is usually chopped and stir-fried with chopped ginger and other aromatics in oil as the basis of sauces. Japanese cuisine uses very little garlic.
Garlic along with ginger form the basis for most of the Indian curries and cooked varieties of rice such as pulao, biriyani, coconut rice etc.
About 1/4 teaspoon of dried powdered garlic is equivalent to one fresh clove.


Domestically, garlic is stored warm (above 18 °C or 64 °F) and dry, to keep it dormant (so that it does not sprout). It is traditionally hung; softneck varieties are often braided in strands called "plaits", or in short plaits. Plaits are sometimes called grappes, following French usage.
Garlic can be frozen in several ways. Freeze garlic stored in oil immediately. The low-acid garlic, exclusion of air (by mixing with oil), and room temperatures can support the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which is deadly.
  • Chop the garlic and wrap tightly in plastic. To use, grate or break off sections.
  • Freeze the garlic unpeeled and remove cloves as needed.
  • Peel the cloves and puree them with twice as much oil. The puree will stay soft enough to scrape off parts for cooking.
  • Peel the garlic and cover with oil. Remove cloves as needed.
Garlic can also be dried. Dry only fresh, firm garlic cloves with no bruises. Peel the cloves, cut in half lengthwise, and dry at 140 degrees for 2 hours, then reduce heat to 130 degrees until completely dry or crisp. If desired, powder dried garlic by processing in a blender or food processor until fine.
Peeled cloves may be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator. The mixture can be kept for about 4 months. Discard the whole mixture if you see any mold or yeast growth.
Commercially, garlic is stored at 0 °C, also dry.

Historical use

From the earliest times garlic has been used as a food. It formed part of the diet of the Israelites in Egypt (Numbers 11:5) and of the labourers employed by Khufu in constructing the pyramid. Garlic is still grown in Egypt, but the Syrian variety is the kind most esteemed now (see Rawlinson's Herodotus, 2.125).
It was consumed by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes (Virgil, Ecologues ii. 11), and, according to Pliny the Elder (Natural History xix. 32), by the African peasantry. Galen eulogizes it as the "rustic's theriac" (cure-all) (see F Adams's Paulus Aegineta, p. 99), and Alexander Neckam, a writer of the 12th century (see Wright's edition of his works, p. 473, 1863), recommends it as a palliative of the heat of the sun in field labor.
In his Natural History Pliny gives an exceedingly long list of scenarios in which it was considered beneficial (N.H. xx. 23). Dr. T. Sydenham valued it as an application in confluent smallpox, and, says Cullen (Mat. Med. ii. p. 174, 1789), found some dropsies cured by it alone. Early in the 20th century, it was sometimes used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis or phthisis. Garlic was rare in traditional English cuisine (though it is said to have been grown in England before 1548), and has been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean Europe. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at cross-roads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, The Superstitious Man); and according to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. (Pliny also states that garlic de-magnetizes loadstones, which is not factual.) The inhabitants of Pelusium in lower Egypt, who worshipped the onion, are said to have had an aversion to both onions and garlic as food.
To prevent the plant from running to leaf, Pliny (N.H. xix. 34) advised bending the stalk downward and covering with earth; seeding, he observes, may be prevented by twisting the stalk (by "seeding", he most likely means the development of small, less potent bulbs).

Medicinal use and health benefits

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating as far back as the time that the Egyptian pyramids were built. Garlic is claimed to help prevent heart disease including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Animal studies, and some early investigational studies in humans, have suggested possible cardiovascular benefits of garlic. A Czech study found garlic supplementation reduced accumulation of cholesterol on vascular walls of animals. Another study had similar results, with garlic supplementation significantly reducing the plaque in the aortas of cholesterol-fed rabbits. Another study showed that supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in human patients with high blood cholesterol. The known vasodilative effect of garlic is possibly caused by catabolism of garlic-derived polysulfides to hydrogen sulfide in red blood cells, a reaction that is dependent on reduced thiols in or on the RBC membrane. Hydrogen sulfide is an endogenous cardioprotective vascular cell signaling molecule.
However, a NIH-funded randomized clinical trial published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007 found that consumption of garlic, in any form, did not reduce cholesterol levels in patients with moderately high baseline levels.
With regard to this clinical trial, reports: In 2007 a BBC news story reported that Allium sativum may have beneficial properties, such as preventing and fighting the common cold. This assertion has the backing of long tradition. Traditional British herbalism used garlic for hoarseness and coughs, both as a syrup and in a salve made of garlic and lard, which was rubbed on the chest and back. The Cherokee also used it as an expectorant for coughs and croup.
Allium sativum has been found to reduce platelet aggregation and hyperlipidemia.
Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Regular and prolonged use of therapeutic amounts of aged garlic extracts lower blood homocysteine levels, and has shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. People taking insulin should not consume medicinal amounts of garlic without consulting a physician.
Allium sativum may also possess cancer-fighting properties due to the presence of allylic sulfur compounds such as diallyl disulfide (DADs), believed to be an anticarcinogen.
In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic's antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II. More recently it has been found from a clinical trial that a mouthwash containing 2.5% fresh garlic shows good antimicrobial activity, although the majority of the participants reported an unpleasant taste and halitosis.
In modern naturopathy, garlic is used as a treatment for intestinal worms and other intestinal parasites, both orally and as an anal suppository. Garlic cloves are used as a remedy for infections (especially chest problems), digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush.
Garlic has been reasonably successfully used in AIDS patients to treat cryptosporidium in an uncontrolled study in China. It has also been used by at least one AIDS patient to treat toxoplasmosis, another protozoal disease.
Garlic supplementation in rats along with a high protein diet has been shown to boost testosterone levels.
To maximise health benefits from consuming cooked garlic, it has been suggested to allow crushed or chopped garlic to rest for 15 minutes before use to allow enzyme reactions to occur. However the primary compound of interest from this reaction, allicin, is generally deactivated during cooking due to its instability, and may be more beneficial consumed raw.
Garlic is also famous as, historically, a treatment for those afflicted by vampires, famously in Dracula.


When crushed, Allium sativum yields allicin, a powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal compound (phytoncide). However due to poor bioavailability it is of limited use for oral consumption. It also contains alliin, ajoene, enzymes, vitamin B, minerals, and flavonoids.
The percentage composition of the bulbs is given by E. Solly (Trans. Hon. Soc. Loud., new ser., iii. p. 60) as water 84.09%, organic matter 13.38%, and inorganic matter 1.53% - that of the leaves being water 87.14%, organic matter 11.27% and inorganic matter 1.59%. The phytochemicals responsible for the sharp flavor of garlic are produced when the plant's cells are damaged. When a cell is broken by chopping, chewing, or crushing, enzymes stored in cell vacuoles trigger the breakdown of several sulfur-containing compounds stored in the cell fluids. The resultant compounds are responsible for the sharp or hot taste and strong smell of garlic. Some of the compounds are unstable and continue to evolve over time. Among the members of the onion family, garlic has by far the highest concentrations of initial reaction products, making garlic much more potent than onions, shallots, or leeks. Although people have come to enjoy the taste of garlic, these compounds are believed to have evolved as a defensive mechanism, deterring animals like birds, insects, and worms from eating the plant.
A large number of sulfur compounds contribute to the smell and taste of garlic. Diallyl disulfide is believed to be an important odour component. Allicin has been found to be the compound most responsible for the "hot" sensation of raw garlic. This chemical opens thermoTRP (transient receptor potential) channels that are responsible for the burning sense of heat in foods. The process of cooking garlic removes allicin, thus mellowing its spiciness.
When eaten in quantity, garlic may be strongly evident in the diner's sweat and breath the following day. This is because garlic's strong smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized forming allyl methyl sulfide. Allyl methyl sulfide (AMS) cannot be digested and is passed into the blood. It is carried to the lungs and the skin where it is excreted. Since digestion takes several hours, and release of AMS several hours more, the effect of eating garlic may be present for a long time.
This well-known phenomenon of "garlic breath" is alleged to be alleviated by eating fresh parsley. The herb is, therefore, included in many garlic recipes, such as Pistou, Persillade and the garlic butter spread used in garlic bread. However, since the odour results mainly from digestive processes placing compounds such as AMS in the blood, and AMS is then released through the lungs over the course of many hours, eating parsley provides only a temporary masking. One way of accelerating the release of AMS from the body is the use of a sauna. Due to its strong odor, garlic is sometimes called the "stinking rose".
Because of the AMS in the bloodstream, it is believed by some to act as a mosquito repellent. However there is no evidence to suggest that garlic is actually effective for this purpose.

Superstition and mythology

Garlic has been regarded as a force for both good and evil. A Christian myth considers that after Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic arose in his left footprint, and onion in the right. In Europe, many cultures have used garlic for protection or white magic, perhaps owing to its reputation as a potent preventative medicine. Central European folk beliefs considered garlic a powerful ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. To ward off vampires, garlic could be worn, hung in windows or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes.
Colloidal silver is often used as antibacterial agent. As with silver, the association of garlic to evil spirits may be based on the antibacterial, antiparasitic value of garlic, which could prevent infections that lead to delusions, and other related mental illness symptoms.
In Northeastern India, it is believed that garlic mixed with water spread around the home will keep snakes from entering. Minority but orthodox Hindu believers of India are not supposed to eat garlic, as it is considered to cause impurity.


  • Cases of botulism have been caused by consuming garlic-in-oil preparations. It is important to freeze them or add acid and keep them refrigerated to retard bacterial growth.
  • While culinary quantities are considered safe for consumption, very high quantities of garlic and garlic supplements have been linked with an increased risk of bleeding, particularly during pregnancy and after surgery and child birth.
  • The side effects of long-term garlic supplementation, if any exist, are largely unknown and no FDA-approved study has been performed. However, garlic has been consumed for several thousand years without any adverse long-term effects, suggesting that modest quantities of garlic pose, at worst, minimal risks to normal individuals. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding, and menstrual irregularities.
  • Some degree of liver toxicity has been demonstrated in rats, particularly in large quantities
  • There have been several reports of serious burns resulting from garlic being applied topically for various purposes, including naturopathic uses and acne treatment. On the basis of numerous reports of such burns, including burns to children, topical use of raw garlic, as well as insertion of raw garlic into body cavities is discouraged. In particular, topical application of raw garlic to young children is not advisable.
  • Garlic and onions may be toxic to cats and dogs.




  • On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition) pp 310–313: The Onion Family: Onions, Garlic, Leeks.
  • Handbook of Vegetable Science and Technology
  • Garlic. The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium sativum L. and Related Species (Second Edition)
  • James Mellgren (2003).
  • Hamilton, Andy (2004). Selfsufficientish - Garlic. Retrieved 1 May 2005.
  • R. Kamenetsky, I. L. Shafir, H. Zemah, A. Barzilay, and H. D. Rabinowitch (2004). Environmental Control of Garlic Growth and Florogenesis. J. Am. Soc. Hort. Sci. 129: 144–151.
  • Balch, P. A. (2000). Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed. New York: Avery.
  • Block, E. (1985). The chemistry of garlic and onions. Scientific American 252 (March): 114–119.
  • Block, E. (1992). The organosulfur chemistry of the genus Allium — implications for organic sulfur chemistry. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 104: 1158–1203.
  • Breithaupt-Grogler, K., et al. (1997). Protective effect of chronic garlic intake on elastic properties of aorta in the elderly. Circulation 96: 2649–2655. Abstract.
  • Efendy, J. L., et al. (1997). The effect of the aged garlic extract, 'Kyolic', on the development of experimental atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis 132: 37–42. Abstract.
  • Japanese garlic.にんにく.
  • Gardner, C. D.; Lawson, L. D.; Block, E.; Chatterjee, L. M.; Kiazand, A.; Balise, R. R.; Kraemer, H. C. (2007) The effect of raw garlic vs. garlic supplements on plasma lipids concentrations in adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia: A clinical trial. "Archives of Internal Medicine" 167: 346–353.
  • Garty, B.-Z. (1993) Garlic burns. "Pediatrics" 91: 658–659.
  • Hile, A. G.; Shan, Z.; Zhang, S.-Z.; Block, E. (2004). Aversion of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to garlic oil treated granules: garlic oil as an avian repellent. Garlic oil analysis by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52: 2192–2196.
  • Jain, A. K. (1993). Can garlic reduce levels of serum lipids? A controlled clinical study. American Journal of Medicine 94: 632–635.
  • Lawson, L. D.; Wang, Z. J. (2001). Low allicin release from garlic supplements: a major problem due to sensitivities of alliinase activity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 49: 2592–2599.]
  • Lemar, K.M.; Turner, M.P.; Lloyd, D. (2002) Garlic (Allium sativum) as an anti-Candida agent: a comparison of the efficacy of fresh garlic and freeze-dried extracts. Journal of Applied Microbiology 93 (3), 398–405 Abstract
  • Mader, F. H. (1990). Treatment of hyperlipidemia with garlic-powder tablets. Arzneimittel-Forschung/Drug Research 40 (2): 3–8. Abstract.
  • Shufford, J.A.; Steckelberg, J.M.; Patel, R. (2005) Antimicrob Agents Chemother. January; 49(1): 473.Effects of Fresh Garlic Extract on Candida albicans Biofilms Letter
  • Silagy, C., and Neil, A. (1994). Garlic as a lipid-lowering agent - a meta-analysis. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians 28 (1): 2–8.
  • Steiner, M., and Lin, R.S. (1998). Changes in platelet function and susceptibility of lipoproteins to oxidation associated with administration of aged garlic extract. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology 31: 904–908.
  • Yeh, Y-Y., et al. (1999). Garlic extract reduces plasma concentration of homocysteine in rats rendered folic acid deficient. FASEB Journal 13(4): Abstract 209.12.
  • Yeh, Y-Y., et al. (1997). Garlic reduced plasma cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic men maintaining habitual diets. In: Ohigashi, H., et al. (eds). Food Factors for Cancer Prevention. Tokyo: Springer-Verlag. Abstract.


External links

garlic in Arabic: ثوم
garlic in Aymara: Ajusa
garlic in Min Nan: Soàn-thâu
garlic in Bulgarian: Чесън
garlic in Catalan: All
garlic in Czech: Česnek kuchyňský
garlic in Welsh: Garlleg
garlic in Danish: Hvidløg
garlic in German: Knoblauch
garlic in Dhivehi: ލޮނުމެދު
garlic in Estonian: Küüslauk
garlic in Modern Greek (1453-): Σκόρδο
garlic in Spanish: Allium sativum
garlic in Esperanto: Ajlo
garlic in Basque: Baratxuri
garlic in Persian: سیر (گیاه)
garlic in French: Ail cultivé
garlic in Friulian: Ai
garlic in Galician: Allo
garlic in Classical Chinese: 蒜
garlic in Korean: 마늘
garlic in Indonesian: Bawang putih
garlic in Italian: Allium sativum
garlic in Haitian: Lay
garlic in Latin: Allium
garlic in Luxembourgish: Knuewelek
garlic in Lithuanian: Valgomasis česnakas
garlic in Hungarian: Fokhagyma
garlic in Malayalam: വെളുത്തുള്ളി
garlic in Dutch: Knoflook
garlic in Japanese: ニンニク
garlic in Norwegian: Hvitløk
garlic in Occitan (post 1500): Alh cultivat
garlic in Polish: Czosnek pospolity
garlic in Portuguese: Alho
garlic in Romanian: Usturoi
garlic in Quechua: Ahus
garlic in Russian: Чеснок
garlic in Sicilian: Agghia
garlic in Simple English: Garlic
garlic in Slovak: Cesnak kuchynský
garlic in Slovenian: Česen
garlic in Serbian: Бели лук
garlic in Finnish: Valkosipuli
garlic in Swedish: Vitlök
garlic in Thai: กระเทียม
garlic in Vietnamese: Tỏi
garlic in Turkish: Sarımsak
garlic in Ukrainian: Часник
garlic in Urdu: لہسن
garlic in Walloon: A (plante)
garlic in Yiddish: קנאבל
garlic in Chinese: 大蒜
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