Well would you believe it? Today, April 19th 2016, is National Garlic Day.
Love it or hate it garlic is one of the most widely used culinary
ingredients across the globe, from Asian cuisine to the Mediterranean and round to Southern and Central America. Used in so many savoury dishes it really adds a kick to otherwise bland foodstuffs. A native of central Asia, with the Latin name Allium sativum, garlic is in the onion genus – a relative of leeks, spring onions, chives and shallots, and has that distinctive pungent flavour when raw which turns sweet and mellow when roasted.
China is the main producer of garlic followed by India, South Korea, Egypt and Russia. It is very easy to grow. In most mild climates all you have to do is to push a clove into the soil until it is just covered and then wait until the leaves are just fading from bright green to yellow and the clove has swollen to produce a bulb of many cloves which can be lifted and dried in a dry, cool shed. Although you can use cloves from shop-bought bulbs it is preferable to source them each year from the garden centre as they will be virus resistant.
To celebrate this humble vegetable there are garlic festivals around the world held on different days usually at harvest time. Here are just a few for you to visit on your travels: Garlic Festivals
Garlic is thought to have therap eutic benefits. It is a source of many vitamins and minerals – B6 and C, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, calcium and potassium. There are studies looking at garlic’s potential for reducing health risks but the evidence is sparse and best left to the experts.
One thing’s for sure, its ability to add zing to cooking makes it a must-have on any shopping list. Look for firm heads with no soft cloves or signs of sprouting. Store at room temperature in a dark place to prevent sprouting and use fairly quickly for the best flavour.
Writing this in April 2016, wild garlic leaves are all the rage on the TV cookery programmes. These lance-shaped leaves add a mild garlic flavour to soups, salads and sauces. You might find them hard to come by in the supermarket so have a hunt at your local farmers’ market.
There are many types of garlic including:
- Porcelain – pearl-white skin and a head of four to five cloves it has a strong flavour
- Rocambole – hot and fiery, with purple streaks much loved by chefs
- Red or Spanish – very large with a lovely purple colour. Often used in roasting
- Artichoke or Italian – a head with many cloves and varied in taste