Garlic does more than just make things taste good—it’s healthful, too! Here are a couple quick tips for maximizing the nutritional merits of those fragrant cloves.
You may not like what it does to your breath, but cooking with garlic is something that most of us do because we know that lots of foods just taste better when cooked with a good dose of garlic. (Need a recipe that features a glorious abundance of garlic? We’ve got that here.) Is there anything that smells better than fresh garlic sauteeing in a little butter or olive oil? I think not. For some it signals that Italian food is on its way, but in reality many, many cuisines rely on the goodness of garlic to enhance vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, grains and all variety of mixed dishes.
Garlic’s health cred hinges largely on its allicin content. And, while heart benefits used to be part of garlic’s nutritional allure, these days it’s mostly revered for its anti-cancer effects. So, what’s the best way to ensure that all the “good stuff” in garlic (notably, allicin) gets to your body? There are two things you can do to get the most health benefits from the garlic you eat:
- Use fresh garlic when possible, as opposed to dried, powdered or even pre-chopped, bottled garlic. Studies show that fresh cloves have more allicin. Get yourself a good-quality garlic press—it’ll make the mincing process so much easier.
- Let garlic sit for a few minutes after you chop, mince or crush it. Apparently, heating garlic right after chopping it (even for as little as 1 minute in a microwave!) deactivates garlic’s anti-cancer substances, blocking its effects. So, plan ahead and just let your garlic “rest” for a while—10 minutes ideally—before tossing it into the saute pan. This step gives an enzyme in the garlic time to come in contact with other chemicals in the garlic’s cells, which causes the allicin compounds to fully develop.
Oh, and if you’re interested in growing your own garlic, or want a little more info on how to “process” your home-grown garlic, check out this consumer backgrounder from North Dakota State Univ. extension service. (By the way, if you have not yet checked out your state’s extension service info, you ought to—they’ve got tons of useful info on agriculture topics, nutrition and food preservation/food safety topics.)
Ok, stock up on some nice, plump heads of garlic and get going—National Garlic Day is Friday, April 19th! Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a few breath mints while you’re at it.
–Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD