Friday, September 15, 2017

Yum Yum for Spices: Is Garlic a Spice?

Garlic has a long and fabled history. It is mentioned in the earliest Sanskrit texts, and probably was in use long before man could write. There are differing opinions as to its origin, but most seem to place it somewhere in central Asia. Garlic throughout the ages was highly touted for its varied medicinal purposes; it was credited for curing everything from the plague to gunpowder wounds. Greek gladiators thought garlic gave them strength and courage. Romans thought of it more as an aphrodisiac. Garlic even played a part in the building of the Great Pyramids, because the Egyptian laborers would not work without their daily allotment of garlic. Although the aristocracy of certain cultures considers those who eat garlic vulgar, the consumption of garlic in the US has risen well over 1000% in the last 20 years. Our high quality dried garlic comes from soft-neck garlic grown in California. Dried garlic, either powdered or in pieces, is a great way to add wonderful flavor to dishes without the hassle of peeling and chopping.

What Is Garlic?
Garlic grows underground in the form of a bulb. Its long green shoots produce flower stalks called scapes, which can be eaten. Covered in an inedible papery skin, the bulb, or head, is comprised of individual sections called cloves. These cloves are themselves enclosed in a paperlike skin, and the pale yellowish flesh within is the part of the garlic that is used in cooking. When eaten raw, garlic has a powerful, pungent flavor. For that reason, it's customary to cook it in some way before serving it, which mellows the flavor considerably. It's generally used as a flavoring ingredient in recipes rather than as the main ingredient itself, 
although roasted garlic can be eaten as a spread or condiment. Like its cousin the onion, garlic contains a sulfur-based enzyme, which is stored in tiny cells within its flesh. Slicing or crushing the garlic ruptures those cells, releasing the pungent chemical.

Unlike onions, which produce this enzyme in a form that allows it to become airborne, the compound in garlic is only transferred via direct contact. That's why onions irritate your eyes when you slice them, but garlic doesn't. Still, if you get garlic juice on your fingers, it's easy to transfer it to your eyes, and you'll have the same problem. Crucially, however, the more you slice, pound, grate or chop your garlic, the more the compound allicin is released. Therefore, if you grate your garlic using the small holes on a box grater, or purée it in a food processor, your garlic will be much more pungent than if it were sliced. This is useful to keep in mind when you are thinking of saving time by tossing them into a Cuisinart. If you want to mince garlic without a knife try pressing the cloves with the tines of a fork instead.

Cooking with Garlic 
There is probably no end to the uses and potential uses of garlic in the culinary arts. It can be added to dishes that are sautéed, baked, braised; added to soups, sauces, marinades, stir-frys; minced and used in sausages, meatballs and other ground meat preparations.

So, is garlic an herb or a spice? The truth is neither. An herb denotes something green, whether it's roots or stems of some sort of plant. A spice is anything else from a plant 
including seeds, bark, roots and so on; always in a dried form. Fresh garlic doesn't fit in either one of those categories. The most accurate description would be a root vegetable, but garlic is hardly ever eaten on its own. But, dried garlic in a powder or salt is definitely a spice.

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