Allium sativum L., commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion family Alliaceae. Its close relatives include the onion, the shallot, and the leek.
Garlic has been used throughout culinary history for its taste -although it would actually be better to say "tastes" plural since it can take on a completely different taste depending on how it's cooked.
Garlic grows under the ground in large, slightly off-white bulbs which are covered by a papery skin. Inside each bulb is anything from ten to twenty individual cloves which themselves have a pinkish skin. It's important not to confuse bulbs and cloves when cooking!
The magic ingredient in garlic responsible for its healing properties is called allicin - it's the compound that also gives garlic its pungent smell. However, allicin doesn't become active until the garlic sustains damage - through being cut, crushed or bruised. Unfortunately once released, allicin breaks down quickly and is destroyed by heat and time, so to get all the benefits from garlic, it's best eaten uncooked and soon after being prepared.
Medicinally, garlic is used as a preventative of the common cold at the very first signs of a cold. It has antimicrobial properties so can be used for bacterial and fungal infections.
Garlic is also rich in protein, vitamins A, B and C, and essential minerals including iron, calcium and selenium which is a powerful antioxidant.
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