Kate's Global Kitchen

Kate Heyhoe  

All About Garlic

by Kate Heyhoe


"Three nickels will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat."
      —New York Yiddish Saying


The Plant That Makes It Chic to Reek

Garlic—that wonderfully odoriferous bulb whose uses range from the culinary to the medical to the mystical. We all know that garlic repels vampires, but just how much do you about its other roles in history? Or about its salutary properties which even today are recognized by Western medicine for reducing cholesterol and curing other ailments?


"Eat leeks in tide and garlic in May, and all the year after physicians may play."
      —Russian Proverb

Lore & Legend

  • Garlic & The Plague: In 1772, four grave-robbers raiding plague victims' corpses in Marseilles were amazingly immune to the plague. Their secret: garlic-infused vinegar, which became known as the Vinegar of the Four Thieves. They ate it, bathed in it, anointed their clothes with it and breathed through it on rags. The latter custom caught on during the plague, as did wearing strings of garlic around one's neck.
  • Indian children once wore leaves around their wrists to prevent whooping cough. Aristotle thought garlic cured rabies. Africans have used it to repel mosquitoes and crocodiles.
  • Garlic is believed to have first come from Central Asia, but its ability to grow in the wild, in poor conditions and almost any soil has allowed its spread worldwide.
  • Eastern legends say that when Satan left the Garden of Eden, onions (a relative of garlic) sprang up from his right footprint, and garlic from his left. In Biblical times garlic was thought to cure an asp's sting, Mohammed used it to cure snakebite, and Spanish matadors have used garlic to keep the bulls from charging.
  • In the Middle Ages it was believed to repel witchcraft and vampires, grandmothers gave garlic to newborns to ward off the devil, and garlic braids were hung on cradles to keep fairies from stealing sleeping babies.
  • Nero is said to have invented "aioli," a garlic-laced mayonnaise used today in gourmet cooking and especially throughout Provence, where they say that "garlic is the poor man's spice." See our aioli recipe below.
  • Garlic has also been banned: In 1330, King Alfonso of Castile forbid knights who had eaten garlic or onion from appearing in court or to speak to courtiers for a month, and ancient Greek priestesses forbid persons who ate it in their temples.

Modern Medical Benefits

"Oh, that miracle clove! Not only does garlic taste good, it cures baldness and tennis elbow, too."
      —Laurie Burrows Grad, Los Angeles Magazine

Touted as a miracle-cure throughout the ages for endless ailments, garlic today has been verified as having true medicinal benefits, even within the conservative views of Western medicine.

Garlic is recognized for its antioxidant, antibiotic and antiseptic properties, and garlic tablets are often prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Bestselling author Dr. Andrew Weil says to take several cloves of raw garlic as soon as you begin to feel a cold coming on, and to use oil with crushed garlic to heal ear infections. Other research suggests that garlic may help prevent cancer and reduce the size of tumors.


Garlic Recipes

"Imagine a world without garlic. No spaghetti sauce. No veal parmigiana. No ratatouille. No Chinese cooking, Italian cooking, or Greek cooking. No Fun."
      —Savannah News

Since garlic is most effective in its raw form, here are a few recipes that will make the most of its salutary properties—and maybe even ward off evil vampires as well!


Traditional garlic-mayonnaise sauce of Provence.

6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
2-3 teaspoons white wine vinegar or lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Process the garlic in a food processor. Add the egg yolks and mustard. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a slow steady stream. When emulsified, add the vinegar or lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fish soups, vegetables or as a flavor enhancer.

Bulgarian Cucumber Dip

2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup shelled walnuts
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2-4 tablespoons water as needed

Process in a food processor or grind in a mortar and pestle the garlic and nuts to form a smooth paste. Stir in the remaining ingredients, thinning with water as needed, and add salt to taste. Serve with breads, crackers or crudites.


Garlic Letters

Dear Readers,

As with the aroma of a freshly crushed clove, my column on Garlic Lore & Legend certainly woke a few of you up. It has been said about garlic that you either love it or you hate it. All but one of you who wrote in loved it—and the one that hates it really hates it a lot, as you can see from his/her email below. One other person has an allergy to it (poor soul!), and the rest of you couldn't get enough of the so-called stinking rose.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in. I've enjoyed your emails and hope you enjoy this Garlic Mailbag, sequel to Garlic Lore & Legend.

Kate Heyhoe


Salmonella & The Aioli Recipe
Garlic Peeling Methods
Baked/Roasted Garlic
Hates Garlic Letters
Loves Garlic Letters

Salmonella & The Aioli Recipe

Hi Kate,

I would like to try your recipe for Aioli but am concerned about the use of raw eggs, which often contain salmonella these days. Do you have any ideas/comments? Thanks!


Dear Kate,

In the aioli you suggest using raw eggs. Isn't that contrary to current medical advice to avoid raw eggs because of samonella? Can commercial mayonnaise be used instead?


Dear Rebwest & Llmendez,

It's often a conundrum for us food writers to present traditional, authentic recipes using raw eggs these days. For those of you concerned about the risk of salmonella from raw eggs, here are some alternatives: 1) use pasteurized liquid whole eggs, measuring 1/8 cup for each egg yolk; 2) use prepared mayonnaise and add the flavorings to it; 3) use the American Egg Board's Cooked Mayonnaise Recipe and adapt it (this recipe appeared on our electronic Gourmet Guide's Picnic Special earlier this year).


Garlic Peeling Methods

Dear Kate,

Do you have your own garlic peeling method? I have one of those new plastic tubes which one leans on with the garlic piece inside and usually the skin comes off. Any other suggestions? Also, do you know if the jars of garlic you can buy cut up and peeled in grocery stores have garlic that is as effective as natural garlic?

Thank you.


Dear Jan,

I actually use three methods for peeling garlic: 1) Chef's Method: place the cloves on a cutting board, place the flat of a chef's knife on top and lean down, crushing the cloves and allowing the papery membrane to lift off. 2) Kate's Quick-Clean Method: Place the cloves in a paper or plastic bag, then smash them with a wooden garlic crusher or the flat bottom of a jar; the cloves are crushed, and the peels are left in the bag, which I use to hold other vegetable trimmings as I cook. 3) Rubber-Roller Method: Similar to the tube you speak of, I use a piece of thin, pliable rubber and roll the cloves in it until the peel comes off....RE: jars of garlic: From what I understand, nothing is as effective as fresh, raw garlic, but even jars of garlic are better than none at all.


Baked/Roasted Garlic

Dear Kate,

I received a garlic roaster (clay container) as a gift. Any hints about seasoning it, how to use roasted garlic, etc? Are elephant garlic cloves treated any different from regular cloves when roasting? Also, is there any difference in taste between the two?



I have a clay garlic roaster that came with no instructions, so I need to know what is the best temperature to roast garlic in and for what duration of time. Thanks so much.


Dear Kate,

I was recently served garlic as an appetizer in a restaurant. The garlic was served baked and whole. It spread on the fresh bread served with it like a very soft butter. How does one bake garlic in this fashion? I would love to serve it to guests.

David Wilson

Dear Aggieogsd, Jenny and David,

Michele Braden's wonderful Roasted Garlic Decadence From Hell contains the basic method for roasting a whole head of garlic. Once roasted, the cloves can be squeezed directly onto bread or may be mixed with the other flavorings in the recipe. You can also follow the same method, but bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Elephant garlic comes in larger heads, so they may take longer to soften when roasting, and they are also milder in taste.


PS—We also received this reader recipe for Garlic with Portabella

Mushrooms from Elkbaby@(removed).com:

"Today I took 2 garlic cloves, 3 med. size portabella caps, a little olive oil, a little soy sauce, 1/4 tablespoon chicken bouillon, 1/4 cup warm water and baked for 2 hours on 200 degrees.... Awesome! Spread the garlic on french bread while eating the mushrooms."

"Hates Garlic" Letters

Dear Kate:

I can't tell you how little your pro-garlic propaganda amused me! Let's get real: garlic is a drug, not just an herb, and you, and many like you, are doing all you can to have it accepted as something it ain't. Similar to the effect of a glass of wine, the consumption of garlic is followed by a bio-chemical physiological change called efflorecense (sic), which, simply put, is a rise in body temperature, a flush in the skin, an opening or closing of the sinuses, and a number of other bodily reactions.

This is all fine, if this is what the restaurant patron wants. But like it's predecessor drug, MSG, garlic's consumption is generally not voluntary, and has to now be requested out. Some people do elect not to be drugged, and all the propaganda about the wonders of this herbal wonder will not succeed in changing their minds.

Most restaurants of quality have severely curtailed their use of MSG in recent years, as well as salt and pepper. Some they put on the table for the patron to choose to use, or not. Too bad the same can't be done with garlic!

For many of us, it is still a reaction producing, foul smelling drug. No wonder it's purported to keep vampires away—it even keeps us normal, non-winged creatures in flight. As with tobacco, you guys have just gone too far. For years I was tolerant and quiet. Not any more. It doesn't belong in my food, or beyond resonable levels in the air of the restaurant I wish to habituate.


Dear Kate,

Loved your article.............but hey! You didn't mention the myriad of us who are allergic (can't digest) garlic! I mean, if it makes you ill, where are the "healing and preventative" properties for those of us who find garlic not only unpalpable but undigestible. Please consider "us" in your report!


"Loves Garlic" Letters

I really enjoyed your article. I'm a garlic enthusiast. I have traveled all over this country, and a few others, always delving into the garlic of that culture. BUT!!!!, I have yet to hit the garlic festival in central California! It is making me crazy!

Anyway. I love food, and really enjoy and appreciate your work. Thank you,

Patricia McMahon
Portland, Oregon


Have you checked out the garlic festival in Gilroy CA.? They also have a web site. www.garlicfestival.com. It's like a breath of fresh air.


Dear Kate,

Thanks for the great garlic recipes. When I first started cooking, I'd buy a bulb of garlic, use three cloves, and the rest would be mummified before I threw it out. Now I buy it five bulbs at a time, and believe me, not a single clove goes to waste! I developed this habit a long time before it was fashionable, or medically advisable to consume it. My only gripe are those idiotic ads for Kyolic, or whatever they call it, for those who want the benefits of garlic without the smell. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't like the taste and smell of garlic, you don't deserve the benefits. I want to make a pilgrimage to Gilroy one of these days.

Best regards,
Thomas of Londonderry

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This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.

This page modified January 2007

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