By Heidi Lewis
Garlic comes in small, medium, large, colossal, and super colossal. Colossal should not be confused with the other giant — Elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is actually its own species, closely related to the leek, and another story.
Allium satvium in all its varieties has been used for health benefits and flavor for centuries around the world. Garlic dates back more than 6,000 years to central Asia and was used extensively by the ancient Egyptians. China is now the world’s largest grower of garlic, producing 77% of the world output. In the U.S. it is grown in every state but Alaska and California is king of production, centered around the “Garlic Capital of the World,” Gilroy, CA. Their annual Garlic Festival in July attracts thousands to worship the “stinking rose.”
Garlic is chock full of manganese, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, but also contains tryptophan, selenium, calcium, and even protein. Studies have found that garlic’s antioxidants, flavonoids, and sulfur compounds can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, increase metabolism, and possibly even help regulate the formation of new fat cells, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods, a non-profit nutrition awareness foundation.
The best way to access the superlative power of garlic is always being refined. While tasty when cooked, raw garlic has more health benefits, and is most powerful when let to sit. In a recent garlic study performed by University of Alabama at Birmingham, sulfide biologist Dr. David Kraus noted: “To maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic.”
California garlic season is here. The harvest is between June and August, with newly cured bulbs lasting for the next few months. As The FruitGuys’ produce buyer Rebecca North says, “They’re fresh as a daisy!”
Preparation: Peel cloves away from the bulb as needed. Smash clove with the flat side of knife to separate and remove skin. Chop, smash, mince, slice, or dice as needed. Let sit a few minutes before preparing as desired.
Storage: Cured garlic will keep for weeks if not allowed to get too moist or dry. Optimum conditions are 55°F and 40% humidity with some airflow. A little terra cotta flowerpot is a good container.