Garlic is one of the most popular ways to season all types of foods, but how did it get its start?
Garlic is man-made in the sense that it has been naturally selected from wild plants. Those plants with large and delicious cloves were selected over time and used as a seasoning for foods. Garlic can be dried, baked, fried or pickled.
Check out this article that explore the origins of garlic and how it became the vegetable that it is today.
The Origins of Garlic
The story of garlic begins in West and Central Asia, where a plant called Allium longicuspis was bred and altered and eventually turned into today’s Allium sativum, or garlic.
Around 6,000 years ago, the ancient Indians domesticated it and recognized how good both its taste and medicinal properties were. They even believed it to be an aphrodisiac at one time.
In around 3,000 BC, Indian traders made it to the Middle East, and afterward, garlic started spreading among numerous civilizations. Soon, garlic was being enjoyed by slaves and nobles alike and being used as a seasoning and an antiseptic, and it was even believed to prolong life.
Garlic became even more popular when it made it to Rome and Greece, where it was used for religious and superstition rituals. Some of them claimed it could protect against leprosy and even stop the spread of smallpox if hung above the entrance door to the home.
In Asia, garlic was used more for medicinal purposes than as a food seasoning. Between the 1st and 10th centuries AD, Buddhists avoided garlic altogether, a habit that continues today in many members of this religion.
This is due to their perception that garlic is bad for both the mind and the body. Today in South Asia, garlic, ginger, and onion are the three most popular seasonings used. Garlic has been proven to be very good at things such as lowering blood pressure and reducing the risks of heart disease.
How Did Garlic Come to America?
While something very similar to garlic had been around for a few hundred years already, true garlic came to America in the 17th century, brought there by the French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
While wild garlic today is only grown in Central Asia, at one time, it was found in places such as India, Egypt, Ukraine, and other parts of Asia.
While people today associate garlic with a food seasoning, it didn’t become popular as a seasoning until the Renaissance period (14th century to the 17th century). In fact, it is said that King Henry IV of France was baptized in a mixture of garlic and water to ward off evil spirits and provide him with a better future.
While garlic has been in America since the 1600s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that it took a huge leap in popularity due to the number of Polish, Italian, and German immigrants who came here and used it in their foods.
There are roughly 700 species of garlic today. There are two main types: hardneck and softneck. The hardneck type of garlic has very robust cloves, although there are fewer cloves than on the softneck type.
Hardneck garlic is more commonly grown in cooler climates and produces an edible flower stem called a garlic scape. It is also closer to wild garlic than anything else.
Softneck garlic grows better in warm and mild climates, matures quickly, and does better when you need to store it. You’re most likely to find this type of garlic in your grocery store.
This type of garlic was produced through an evolutionary process that took several centuries to get where it is today.
As far as growing garlic goes, California is by far the largest producer of this food type. More than 90% of the garlic grown in the United States comes from California. Gilroy, California, produces the most and is known as the Garlic Capital of the World.
Interestingly, around 75% of the garlic consumption in the U.S. consists of dehydrated garlic. In addition to California, Nevada and Oregon produce a lot of garlic every year as well.
Today, Asia still consumes the most garlic by far. India and Indonesia rank second and third.
Is Garlic a GMO Food?
Like most other foods, garlic can be a genetically modified food in some instances, mainly to withstand the various insects that might harm them as the garlic is growing.
When it comes to GMO foods, there is a lot of debate regarding how good or bad they are for you. The jury still seems to be out on just how harmful GMO foods are, but the truth is, you cannot stop the fact that many of the foods we eat are not genetically modified.
GMO or not, garlic has a lot of health benefits, which include the following:
- Helps strengthen the immune system
- Helps fight off infection
- Helps lower blood pressure
- Helps improve memory
- Helps reduce the risk of heart disease
- Helps lower cholesterol
- Helps make bones stronger
- Helps improve strength and stamina
- Helps reduce inflammation
- Helps improve digestive health
- Helps improve the look of your skin
- Helps reduce the odds of getting cancer
- Helps get rid of heavy metal and toxins in the body
What Type of Garlic Should You Grow at Home?
Garlic is very easy to grow at home, and the type you grow depends on where you live. The hardneck variety does best when you live in an area that has a “real” winter and gets warm afterward.
The softneck variety does best when you live in an area that has a mild climate all year round and never gets too cold.
Softneck garlic includes the artichoke garlic and the silverskin garlic, while hardneck garlic types include the rocambole garlic, purple stripe garlic, porcelain garlic, glazed purple garlic, and the marbled stripe garlic.
Garlic is a healthy food that gives lots of different foods a much better taste, especially certain types of ethnic foods. Garlic is not man-made but is the result of years and years of modifications and evolutionary changes. It has medicinal effects and makes food taste great, and the more you learn about it, the more you’ll want to give it a try.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.