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The Instacart guide to garlic

About garlic

Garlic belongs to the onion family of Allium, so it's no surprise that the onion, shallot, leek, and chive are Garlic's closest relatives. Garlic has family ties to the Welsh onion and Chinese onion as well. Garlic has been around for thousands of years, growing natively in Central Asia, Iran, and China. The word derives from Old English, meaning gar (spear) and leek, as in a spear-shaped leek.

The ancient Egyptians used garlic for food seasoning purposes and traditional medicine, and these uses continue to this day. Garlic production totals over 29 million tons, with China accounting for nearly 80% of the total.

Garlic grows easily both wild and in cultivation and can be grown wild year-round in mild climates. The perennial flowering garlic plant grows from a bulb beneath the ground. The tall stem stands straight and grows as tall as 3 feet. The plant produces pink or purple flowers from July through September. 

Garlic's distinctive fragrance is due to its bulb, which has a thin outer layer covering the inner clove. Each bulb can contain anywhere from 10-20 asymmetrically shaped cloves. Garlic's hardiness allows for it to be planted as far north as Alaska, as long as it's done correctly and placed at the proper depth in the ground. In colder climates, you should plant garlic cloves 1-2 months before the ground freezes, with the goal of only producing roots beneath the surface. Harvesting should take place from late spring through to the summer.

The flowers of the garlic plant get pollinated by bees, moths, butterflies, and insects. You can grow garlic plants close to one another as long as you leave enough space for the bulbs to grow out. Garlic thrives in loose, dry, well-drained earth with lots of sunlight. A single clove will grow into an entire bulb, though only the larger cloves are used. 

Various phytochemicals are responsible for garlic's sharp odor and hot flavor. These phytochemicals are released when cloves are either smashed or chopped, triggering the breakdown of compounds that contain sulfur in the clove.

Garlic's intense, fragrant smell creates a succulent taste when cooked in a variety of foods. From pastas to meats, vegetarian dishes to breads, its universal application makes it a central cooking ingredient. Besides being a flavor additive, there are recipes that place garlic in a central role, like garlic bread, croutons, salad dressings, and sauces.

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FAQs About Garlic

Garlic's strong odor may be evident when eaten in large quantities. The reason is traced to the sulfur compounds, which get metabolized and form allyl methyl sulfide (AMS). The body cannot digest AMS, so it passes into the bloodstream and gets carried to the lungs and skin. Digestion can take hours, so the garlicky smell may be present for a long time.

Some say eating parsley will counteract garlic breath. Others claim that eating garlic can repel mosquitos because of AMS being in the bloodstream. Neither claim has scientific evidence to support it. 

Scientists have long associated garlic with health benefits, dating back to Pliny's "Natural History" in AD 77, yet these theories fall under the category of folk medicine. Today, the health benefits of garlic are often debated. Several studies have shown minimal effects on cardiac health and cancer prevention. However, study limitations often overshadow the clarity of research. The link between garlic and platelet aggregation has some doctors cautioning people who are on blood thinner medication to avoid garlic.
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