Last week I started a post about garlic and there were so many tidbits to cover, I divided it into 2 parts. In Part I of 10 Facts You Ought to Know About Garlic, we covered:
- Choosing fresh garlic.
- Slicing or chopping versus mashing or pressing the clove
- Should you refrigerate or keep fresh garlic at room temperature?
- Freezing garlic.
- Cooking times and temperature matter when using garlic.
Here are facts 6-10, picking up where we left off.
- (#6) Should you remove the green germ inside some cloves of garlic? When garlic is stored for a while, it gets a green “germ” in the center and can even sprout a green tip outside the clove. I’ve never removed that green germ, but doing the research for this post I learned from David Lebovitz and The Kitchn that the green germ can impart a bitter taste to dishes where the garlic is used raw. From now on I’ll take out any green germ when I make pesto, bruschetta or anything else with raw garlic. (I’m not a big fan of raw garlic, so my list of recipes where I’ll take the germ out will be short, thank goodness.) David Lebovitz, whose taste buds are certainly as good as mine, and probably considerably better, did a taste test with the green germ left in and removed. He couldn’t tell the difference when the garlic is cooked. That taste test is good enough for me to continue using the whole clove (without removing any green germ in the middle) for recipes where the garlic is cooked, e.g. pasta with tuna, garlic and parsley, light tomato sauce, stone soup, and stuffed portabella mushrooms. The test kitchen at Fine Cooking magazine recommends removing the germ not only when using garlic raw but also when quick cooking with it (leaving the germ in only when using slow cooking methods), but David Lebovitz’s test was with fried garlic (a quick cooking method) and he couldn’t tell the difference between green germ in or removed.
- (#7) Can you buy locally grown garlic? Unless you live in California or go to a farmers market in the spring or summer, you are unlikely to find locally grown garlic. China accounts for over ¼ of the garlic consumed in the U.S. Concerns about food safety in China has led to speculation that that it would be wise to avoid eating garlic grown there. However, as a recent LA Times blogpost revealed, much of the garlic we ingest from China comes in dehydrated or processed garlic in spice mixes that make it impossible for a U.S. (or other) consumer to eliminate Chinese garlic from their diet unless they eliminate all spices and other foods containing garlic. For me, the compromise is to buy U.S.-grown fresh garlic and to generally avoid using powdered garlic. I still use curry powder and other spice mixes that contain garlic and I eat at restaurants that serve garlic without interrogating anyone about where the garlic they use is grown.
- (#8) How can you avoid green or bluish discoloration when you cook garlic? If you’ve ever had your garlic turn green or blue when you cooked it, the chances are that you mixed the garlic with onion and cooked them together. Harold McGee, one of my favorite food science gurus, notes that you can avoid those colors if you cook the onion first and only add the garlic later, cooking it quickly with high heat. Seriouseats has 3 tips for preventing the green or bluish color: 1) working quickly to cook cold garlic on high heat; 2) cooking garlic separately from onions; and 3) cooking garlic in a recipe before adding any acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. Not everyone thinks the blue-green coloring is bad; according to McGee, the Chinese purposely turn pickled garlic cloves green, which they consider both attractive and auspicious.
- (#9) Is garlic healthy? The answer is yes, maybe and no, all at the same time. Frustrating I know, but like much else in life, it all depends – who you listen to and what an individual’s circumstances are. (My facts here come from the U of Maryland Medical Center.) Garlic is a time-honored natural medicine. The evidence is mixed when it comes to the claim that garlic helps prevent heart disease and hardening of the arteries. There is also evidence, again not airtight, that garlic may help fight the common cold and may help the body’s immune system when the body is fighting a disease such as cancer. Some other studies have shown that a garlic gel may help ringworm, jock itch and athlete’s foot. However, garlic acts as a blood thinner which can be dangerous for some people, at least if garlic is ingested in large quantities. Also, in large amounts, garlic may adversely interact with blood-thinning medications, medications for HIV-AIDS and birth control pills.
- (#10) When garlic can be dangerous? Storing raw or roasted garlic in oil at room temperature as a home-prepared flavored oil is dangerous. That combination of oil and garlic at room temperature provides a perfect environment for the growth of botulism, a potentially fatal poison. Commercial garlic-flavored oils are required to contain adequate citric or phosphoric acid to prevent the growth of botulism, but a homemade version is not safe.
I’m off to prepare dinner now, using lots of garlic in a new recipe for Asian-style turkey rice soup. How do you like to use garlic?