Garlic (Allium sativum) is a close relative of chives, leek and onions. This edible bulb of garlic cloves is found underground, below the leafy, scallion-like growth. A garlic bulb, composed of 4-60 cloves, can be 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter (4 to 7.5 cm) and grow to a height of 10 inches to 5 feet (10 cm to 1.5 m). The flowers are white with a rose or green cast. The bulbs themselves are creamy white and may have a purplish hue, as may the paper-like covering that surrounds the bulb.

As a culinary and medicinal plant, garlic spread in ancient times to Mediterranean regions and beyond. Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes by more cultures than any other plant product or substance. The first recorded use was by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Archeologists have discovered paintings of garlic dating back to 3200 B.C in Egyptian tombs. A recently discovered Egyptian papyrus dated around 1,500 B.C. recommends garlic as a cure for over 22 common ailments, including lack of stamina, heart disease and tumors.

Garlic was so highly prized, it was even used as currency. Although the Egyptians considered garlic valuable, they had a strong aversion to cooking and eating it. The ancient Israelites were fond of garlic and in the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions incorporated into the Talmud, the ancient Hebrew writers refer to themselves as “the garlic eaters.” Many other ancient civilizations, including the Romans and Greeks used garlic to boost strength and prevent diseases. In ancient Greece and Rome, garlic enjoyed a variety of uses, from repelling scorpions to treating animal bites and bladder infections to curing leprosy and asthma.

Although highly regarded as a medicine in eastern cultures, garlic was not used as a food. The Buddhists avoided eating it as did some Hindus.The ancient Indians valued the medicinal properties of garlic and thought it to be an aphrodisiac. But it was not considered to be suitable food for the upper classes, who detested its strong odor. It was also forbidden by monks, who believed it to be a stimulant that aroused passions. This attitude changed with the centuries and garlic, ginger and onion were, and continue to be, an indispensable part of the cuisine of Southern Asia.

In the Middle Ages, garlic was thought to combat the plague and was hung in braided strands across the entrances of houses to prevent evil spirits from entering and as a protection from the plague. Garlic was also used as a medicine against plagues that struck London in the 17th century and France in the 18th century.

In New England, during colonial times, garlic cloves were used to treat smallpox, rheumatism, intestinal worms and whooping-cough. Louis Pasteur recognized its antiseptic properties in 1858, and Albert Schweitzer recommended garlic for dysentery.

For many years, garlic was shunned as a food by the western cultures because of the odor it left behind. It was avoided in America until the 20th. century, when an influx of immigrants brought garlic flavored cooking with them and the use of garlic slowly gained a foothold in American cuisine. Today, garlic is recognized worldwide as an extremely nutritious addition to any diet.

Over a thousand papers on garlic health benefits have been published since 1950. Many of the health benefits of garlic that have been studied come from garlic’s abundant antioxidant nutrients. Garlic also contains enzymes, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium. Vitamins in garlic include vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Garlic is a powerful immune system booster. It increases the production of interferon (an antiviral compound), which improves the action of your white blood cells. Interferon and white blood cells are critical components of your body’s immune system.

There are certain dishes that are unimaginable without garlic: the sauce from France called aioli, the Italian anchovy dip called bagna cauda, the Middle Eastern spread hummus, Greek Tzatziki sauce and, of course, garlic bread, to name a few. It is also an important ingredient in many Italian sauces and Asian recipes. There are jellies and jams and even ice cream. For a milder flavor, choose Elephant garlic, which — while large in size — has a mild garlic taste.

Garlic Measurements:

Here are some garlic measurement yields:

1 small clove of garlic equals one half teaspoon of garlic

1 medium clove equals one teaspoon

1 large clove equals two teaspoons

1 extra-large clove equals one tablespoon

Garlic Tips:

Garlic keepers, covered ceramic pots with holes for circulation, provide the kind of cool, dark climate in which the bulbs keep best. Green shoots on stored garlic do not mean it can no longer be used, but the flavor will be milder.

Refrigeration changes the texture of garlic and causes it to quickly become soft. Neither freezing nor drying gives satisfactory results, but storing peeled cloves in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator, will preserve garlic for up to four months.

Do NOT store garlic in oil, even under refrigeration, because cases of botulism have resulted. Commercial preparations in oil, by law, have been specially treated to prevent this possibility.

When garlic cloves are cooked or baked whole, the flavor mellows into a sweet, almost nutty flavor that hardly resembles any form of pungency.

The potency of garlic is determined by size. The smaller you cut it, the stronger the flavor. Chopping finely and/or pressing a clove exposes more surfaces to the air, causing a chemical reaction to produce that strong aroma and potent flavor.

When sauteing garlic, be very careful not to burn it. The flavor turns intensely bitter and you’ll have to start over.

If you have a good garlic press, you don’t even need to peel garlic cloves before pressing, which can be a wonderful time-saver. Just place the unpeeled clove in the tool cavity, press and discard the skins left in the cavity.

Choose garlic heads that are firm to the touch, with no nicks or soft cloves. If you notice dark, powdery patches under the skin, pass it up because this is an indication of a common mold which will eventually spoil the flesh.

Some Common Types of Garlic

Believe it or not, all garlics do not taste the same. Some are exceedingly mild in taste, such as Italian Red and Red Toch. Some are medium flavored, while others are very hot and strong, such as Metechi (a marbled Purple Stripe) or Chinese Purple.There are several components to garlic taste: flavor, pungency (which is the degree of hotness when eaten raw) and residual or aftertaste, which for some varieties is considerable. Flavor and aftertaste can be measured on a scale from 1 to 10. Raw garlic is hot like a chili pepper, it just doesn’t last long, but it has an aftertaste. Flavor is the intensity of the garlic taste itself, whether it is hot or not. Some have a heavy flavor but are mild in heat, whereas others may be light in both or very heavy in both. If you get garlic that scores a ten on all three scales, you have very potent garlic.

For many, many more types of garlic, read what the following garlic farm in Wisconsin grows:

Fresh garlic consists of several cloves that can be individually separated from their paper-thin white peel. Each clove of garlic is also encased in its own individual white to reddish-brown wrapper, often layered, depending upon variety. Regardless of variety though, it is best to choose garlic with firm bulbs and roots still intact, as this is a sign of freshness. Whole garlic has a very mild scent, once cloves are chopped or pressed enzyme compounds are released which produce a sulfur based molecule known as allicin, a process which gives garlic its renowned pungent aroma and flavor.

Italian Purple garlic can easily be distinguished from other garlics by its appearance. Its solid bulb is almost uniformly rounded and its thick layers of wrappers are streaked with variegations of violet-purple. The bulb contains a thick central scape and about six to eight plump cream-colored cloves in relatively easy-to-peel skin. The cloves are aromatic, spicy and bold in flavor, which only increases with maturity. When eaten raw, a little bit goes a long way with Italian Purple garlic, since its flavor lingers for quite a while. Italian Purple is a rare Rocambole that was brought to the United States from northern Italy in the early 20th. century. It has been grown throughout many garlic growing regions in the Northern United States. It is still considered a rare garlic with very limited commercial production. You will most likely find Italian Purple garlic at a farmers market.

Elephant garlic is much larger in size than common garlic. Elephant garlic develops a large underground bulb (nearly twice the size of the largest true garlic variety) that produces an average of five large cloves. The largest bulbs can weigh as much as one pound, hence its given name. Its size matters only in appearance, though, as its flavor is milder and sweeter than that of other garlic varieties, due to its leek ancestry.


Thai garlic produce extremely small bulbs, that carry about six to eight pea-sized cloves, that grow around the garlic’s scape. When harvested at maturity, the cloves are encased in tight, firm wrappers varying in stripes and colors of purple and tan. The cloves themselves are creamy in color with a shallot rose-colored hue on their surface. Regardless of size, their flavors are pungent and aromas are strong. The fiery flavor does mellow with cooking.

Rancho Grande garlic is an Italian red garlic variety and a soft neck type of garlic. Rancho Grande garlic produces large bulbs, which carry an average of ten cloves, that grow in a circular order around the garlic’s central scape. The bulbs and individual cloves are wrapped in thin papery layers that protect the garlic from the elements through maturity. The cloves are a translucent white in color. The garlic’s aroma is a savory and mellow essence of allium, while the flavor is peppery and yet sweet.


Kettle River garlic produces large bulbs with an average of four cloves per bulb. The bulbs grow in pairs around the garlic’s central scape, their size is quite robust compared to many garlic varieties. Even when slightly peeled, the aromatics of the garlic permeate immediately and linger. The flavor of Kettle River garlic is intense with an earthy garlic taste and a smooth subtle aftertaste.

Green garlic are young, short-season plants that are harvested before they begin to form mature bulbs or cloves. Green garlic ranges in height from 8-18 inches, producing thin, green stalks and small, cylindric to globular white bulbs. Green garlic has a piquant garlic flavor and a firm texture.


Recipes That Showcase Garlic:



Garlicky Bruschetta with Tomatoes


  • 1 cup diced ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf Italian bread, sliced diagonally into 1-inch thick slices and toasted


In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and garlic. Mix well to combine. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Spoon tomato mixture on toasted bread slices and serve.

Bagna Cauda

An Italian favorite, bagna cauda is a warm dip of anchovies, garlic and olive oil served with fresh vegetables as an appetizer.


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 12 anchovies preserved in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

For dipping:

A variety of raw vegetables, including fennel, cauliflower, Belgian endive, sweet peppers and zucchini.


Put the olive oil in a pan with the garlic and anchovies and cook over a low heat, stirring, until the anchovies melt or break apart. Whisk in butter and, as soon as it has melted, remove the pot from the heat and whisk for a few more turns to blend everything together. Pour into a heatproof dish that fits over a flame or bunson burner, so that it does not get cold at the table. Serve with the crudities.


First Courses


Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Chili Pepper

Spaghetti with garlic, oil and peperoncino is one of the most simple and quick-to-prepare pasta dishes in Italy.

Servings 4


  • 3/4 lb spaghetti
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 chili pepper
  • parsley, chopped to taste


Cook the pasta in salted water and drain when cooked al-dente. While it is cooking, heat the garlic and the chili pepper, without letting them burn, and add to the cooked pasta, sprinkling some finely chopped parsley on top.

Garlic Soup Italian Style


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large potatoes cut into bite-size cubes
  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh chives or tops of green onions to garnish


In a soup pot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are softened, (not mushy.) This should take an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the broth, the water, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until all ingredients are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Process the soup with an immersion blender until chunky. Season with salt and pepper and garnish. Serve hot.

Linguine with Clam Sauce

See post on how to clean clams:

6 servings


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup clam juice
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 dozen littleneck clams, washed well
  • 8 cups hot cooked linguine (about 1 pound uncooked pasta)


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 3 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Stir in clam juice and next 5 ingredients. Stir well and add clams in a single layer. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until the clams open. Remove from heat. Discard any clams that do not open.

Drain pasta and return to the pot.  Add clam sauce to pasta and toss well. Serve in individual pasta bowls.


Second Courses


Garlicky Pan-Roasted Shrimp


  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or passed through a garlic press
  • pinch of dried red-pepper flakes, or 1 or 2 whole dried peperoncini (hot peppers)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley


In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and hot pepper and saute gently until the garlic softens but is not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and saute, turning once, until they are opaque, about 2 minutes on each side. Add the wine and salt, stir and cook for an additional 30 seconds, to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Remove and discard the whole peppers, if used. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Italian Garlic Chicken and Potatoes


  • 8 bone in chicken thighs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon red chili peppers, finely minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 5 medium new potatoes
  • 2 -3 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line a roasting pan with foil.

Cut off any excess skin from the chicken leaving just a covering on top. Dry chicken with paper towels and place into a large bowl. 

Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over chicken.

Add garlic, lemon juice, parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, chili peppers, salt and pepper.

Using clean hands, toss the chicken in the oil/garlic/herb mixture to thoroughly coat.

Lay the chicken pieces in the roasting pan, skin side down, leaving any excess oil/garlic/herb mixture in the bowl.

Cut up potatoes (do NOT peel) into large chunks and toss into the bowl with the remaining oil/garlic/herb mixture.

Toss to coat and place potato chunks around chicken in pan and drizzle any remaining oil mixture over chicken and potatoes.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn chicken and potatoes over.

Return to the oven and bake an additional 20-25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.