I realize miracle is a big word. I could something less dramatic in the title of this post, like 'benefits'. However, garlic is such an impressively medicinal food, I feel like it's an appropriate choice. I'll let you decide. In addition to the health benefits, I'll compare preparation methods and share a new favourite recipe of mine for a 'Fermented Garlic Paste'.
Health Benefits of Garlic
This unassuming bulb has been used medicinally for thousands of years. You may have heard of using it to ward off evil spirits and Count Dracula, but consider that its been used to promote longevity since 2000 B.C.E!
Garlic has well-researched benefits for the cardiovascular system. It improves cholesterol levels and reduces platelet aggregation, protecting against blood clotting. Recent studies have found that garlic also lowers blood pressure by dilating our blood vessels. It's also an incredibly potent anti-inflammatory that protects the blood vessels and prevents oxidative stress, lowering the risk of heart attack and atherosclerosis.
The anti-inflammatory effects of garlic also benefit muscular, joint and respiratory inflammation. Used for everything from sinus allergies to osteoarthritis, garlic reduces the swelling, heat and paid associated with an inflammatory response.
As an antibacterial and antiviral, garlic is in a league of its own! It's famous for prevention infection and has been used to treat burns as well as prevent gangrene in severe traumas. A recent study even found it was able to kill bacteria that had become resistant to prescription antibiotics! It's power doesn't stop at bacteria and viruses, it's also effective against yeasts and moulds, even being used to balance Candida overgrowth.
Particularly relevant in our society, with our increasing rates of cancers, garlic has beneficial anticancer effects. Daily intake of garlic reduces the risk of all types of cancer, except prostate and breast. Having garlic just a few times per week has been found to reduce colon and renal cancer.
Garlic is also a nutrient-dense food containing selenium (an important antioxidant that supports liver detoxification and prevents premature aging), manganese, vitamin C, copper and it helps our bodies to metabolize iron. Garlic also contains sulfur compounds that are anti-cancer and are important in liver detoxification pathways. Contrary to popular belief, garlic doesn't contain allicin. Rather, it has alliin. It's only when garlic is chopped or crushed, that enzymatic changes turn the alliin into allicin. However, the benefits of garlic depend highly on how you prepare it!
Best Ways to Prepare Garlic
"The intact bulb of garlic contains only a few bioactive compounds. When chopped, steamed or processed as an ingredient in food, garlic's chemistry is very much altered", (Journal: Food Science and Biotechnology). When garlic is crushed or chopped, allicin and over 100 sulfur compounds are created. It takes at least 5 minutes to achieve good allicin content and after 60 minutes, most of it has been lost. Just 60 seconds of microwave heating and 45 minutes of oven heat inactivated allicin and destroyed its anti-cancer effect, (Journal: The American Society for Nutritional Science). Also, pH can affect the conversion of alliin into allicin. It's important not to add anything acidic, like vinegar or citrus juice. However, it is also important to note that heat does nothing to the antioxidant activity or protective effects against oxidative damage, (Journal: Plant Foods for Human Nutrition).
As a fermentation nerd, I've been studying the effects of fermentation on garlic's medicinal properties and am thrilled that allicin content does not reduce during fermentation and increased sulfur compounds are formed, (Journal: Food Science and Biotechnology & LaChance). One study found that fermenting the garlic increased antioxidant properties by up to 13 times compared to the control garlic. The fermented garlic had increased polyphenols as well as higher amounts of SOD (superoxide dismutase), an important part of the antioxidant chain which reduces free radical damage, (Journal: Plant Foods for Human Nutrition).
It's important to note that garlic is an amazingly healthy food no matter how you prepare it and variety is the spice of life, so enjoy it raw, roasted, cooked, steamed, fermented, . . . just eat it!!
If you want to extract the most health benefits, the best way to prepare garlic is to crush or chop it, leave it to sit for about 10 minute and then eat it raw. If you are cooking it, then add only in the last 15 minutes of cooking and use only medium-low heat or less. Alternatively, you could try fermenting garlic as well. This will produce a garlic that retains and perhaps even increases some of it's health benefits and the fermentation process yields a milder taste than raw garlic, so it's easier to add to foods without cooking.
Fermented Garlic Paste
makes roughly 1 cup
4-5 heads of garlic
1 tsp sea salt
juice of 1 lemon
Separate and peel cloves. Add them to a food processor with the 'S' blade and process until it's a paste. TIP: Soak the bowl of your food processor in some water and baking soda to pull out the smell!
Add garlic paste a wide-mouth mason jar and stir in the sea salt. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then stir in the lemon juice.
Place a follow on top (a cabbage leaf, boiled flat rock or fermenting coaster) and then place a weight on top. I used a smaller mason jar filled with water.
Set aside, out of direct light, in a cool place for 2-3 weeks to ferment. The salt will pull water out of the garlic, so set your ferment in a shallow tray or bowl to catch any overflow.
Check your ferment regularly to make sure paste is submerged under liquid. A scum may form on top, this is harmless. You can leave it until the ferment is finished, then scoop it off before transferring to fridge. Your garlic may turn blue, mine usually does, you can see it in the photos. This won't affect the flavour or the fermentation process.
The paste is ready when it tastes milder than raw garlic and has a slightly acidic flavour. Remove weight and follower and transfer to the fridge with an air tight lid. Your paste will keep for up to a year.
-Recipe adapted from 'Fermented Vegetables' by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey
Note: If you already use garlic cloves in your other ferment recipes, make sure you eat them! Garlic cloves find their way into our Spicy Dilly Beans and Fermented Real Pickle recipes and we always make sure to enjoy them too!
Song and Milner, 'The Influence of Heating on the Anticancer Properties of Garlic', The American Society for Nutritional Science. Heating destroys allicin content. This was found at 60 seconds of microwaving and at 45 minutes of oven heating. allicin became inactive and lost its anti carcinogenic effect.
Park, Park and Park, 'The Antioxidative and Antigenotoxic Effects of Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Prepared by Different Processing Methods', Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, December 2009, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 244-249