Garlic is a favorite ingredient for cooks around the world—and provides a variety of health benefits. Here’s how to get the most from this ancient superfood.
Garlic may stink, literally, but when it comes to health benefits, this plant is a winner. Not only is it rich in phosphorus, calcium, and copper, but when incorporated into a regular diet, it may reduce risks of cancer and heart disease.
“Garlic’s benefits include lowering total cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing oxidative stress—which has been linked to numerous health conditions—controlling infections, helping keep iron in circulation, and possibly reducing the risk of cancer,” says George Mateljan, Hawaii-based author of The World’s Healthiest Foods (GMF Publishing, 2015) and founder of Health Valley Foods.
Cooked vs. Raw Garlic
As for its famous odor? Not until you cut into a garlic clove will its sulfur compounds release their smell. The compounds found in raw garlic confer the greatest health benefits, but cooked garlic is a superstar, too—lending a flavor kick to soups, stews, breads, meats, vegetables, sauces, and dressings. It can also be roasted on its own so that each clove becomes soft and spreadable. Meanwhile, letting crushed garlic stand for 10 minutes before cooking with it can prevent the loss of its cancer-fighting properties, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
Know Your Garlic
Supermarkets usually carry just one kind of garlic, but there are actually hundreds of different types—they can be found at farmers’ markets and garlic festivals (see left). They all fall into one of two general categories:
Characteristics » Most frequently found in grocery stores, this type produces stalks, but usually also has more individual cloves than the hardneck types.
Flavor profile » Generally milder than hardneck.
Common types » Silverskin and artichoke