Stinking facts about garlic

Garlic is a member of the lily family and is related to onions, shallots, chives, and leeks. It has a distinctive flavor and just needs a little care when handling it.

Garlic is known as the stinking rose. It has a beautiful flavor but it does stink! Garlic is a root vegetable that is available year round. Unbroken bulbs can be stored in an open container in a cool, dark place for up to eight weeks. Each bulb has six to 12 smaller cloves and once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep three to 10 days.

The sharp flavor of garlic is produced because of a chemical reaction that takes place when the garlic cloves are cut, chopped, minced, crushed, pressed or pureed. Garlic not only makes our food flavorful but is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and selenium, and a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese.

Garlic is available fresh, canned and dehydrated. Fresh garlic bulbs should be firm, clean and white with a dried neck. They should be thrown out when soft or show signs of mold. Peeled cloves can be stored in vinegar in the refrigerator.

Garlic can turn blue or green when it is canned because of an enzymatic reaction that takes place. This is harmless and the garlic is safe to use.

When dehydrated garlic is ground it becomes garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice come from fresh pressed garlic cloves.

Garlic in oil is very popular, but homemade garlic in oil can cause botulism if not handled correctly. Unrefrigerated garlic-in-oil mixes can foster the growth of clostridium botulinum bacteria, which produces poisons that do not affect the taste or smell of the oil. Spores of this bacteria are commonly found in soil and can be on produce such as garlic. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all traces of miniscule soil particles on garlic heads. These botulinum spores found in soil are harmless when there is oxygen present. But when spore-containing garlic is bottled and covered with oil, an oxygen-free environment is created that promotes the germination of the spores and produces a toxin that can occur at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

Botulism is a potentially fatal food poisoning that has symptoms including blurred or double vision, speech and difficulty in breathing and progressive paralysis. Without prompt and correct treatment, one-third of those diagnosed with botulism may die.

To reduce this risk of botulism, the garlic in oil mixture should be refrigerated and used within two to three days. Garlic-in-oil should always be discarded after two hours at room temperature, even if salt and acids are present. Commercially prepared oils have added acids and other chemicals to eliminate the risk of botulism, but still must be handled carefully and correctly.

One unpleasant side effect of consuming garlic is that the oils spread through the lung tissue and stay in the body long after it has been eaten. This affects not only breath, but even skin odor. Chewing fresh parsley helps, but nothing eliminates this lingering odor.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following substitutions for one clove of garlic:

  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, garlic flakes or garlic juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

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