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So whilst garlic bread has got to be one of the most popular fast-foods around, and its popularity as a flavouring throughout the world is unquestioned, there still seems to be something of a love-hate relationship with this member of the onion and leek family… primarily due to the affect it has on your breath! Sometimes referred to as the stinking rose (that’s “rose puante” to all our French readers… I think!) it can be eaten raw (if you want to lead a solitary existence – although apparently chewing a sprig of parsley can help to lessen the smell), fried or roasted.
No-one seems absolutely certain what part of the world modern-day garlic first came from but it probably descended from a wild species in south-western Asia. It has been used throughout recorded history for both cookery and medicinal purposes with Sanskrit records revealing that garlic remedies were being pressed into service in India about 5,000 years ago. Aspects of Chinese medicine have recognised garlic's powers for over 3,000 years and even Louis Pasteur took some time off from discovering the assymetry of crystals and penicillin to recognise the anti-bacterial powers of garlic back in 1858. During World War One surgeons regularly used garlic juice to stop wounds turning septic and modern studies have shown that garlic can have an antioxidant effect which helps to protect the body against those pesky "free radicals". And of course it helps to keep vampires at bay, protects against the evil eye and wards off jealous nymphs that terrorise pregnant women and engaged maidens. An ancient Greek custom, used by travellers to protect themselves from evil spirits, was to place garlic at crossroads in order to confuse any following demons and cause them to lose their way!
When garlic cloves are chewed, crushed or cut, they release a sulphur-bearing compound called allicin. This is the chemical that gives garlic its pungent taste and smell and it's this allicin that scientists have discovered is the ingredient thought to be responsible for garlic's therapeutic qualities. The medicinal properties and benefits of are at their strongest when it is raw (or very lightly cooked) and crushed or very finely chopped, but don't overdo it as too much can irritate your digestive tract. Cooked prepared garlic has less power but is still reputedly of benefit to the cardiovascular system.
Garlic was supposedly worshipped by ancient Egyptians (six dried garlic bulbs were reportedly found in Tutankhamen’s tomb), chewed by both Greek Olympian athletes and Roman soldiers to enhance their endurance and strength, and has even been used as a currency. It was a major part of the diet (along with flatbread, onions and beer) fed to the slaves that built the pyramids in Egypt. When they threatened to go on strike, leaving the pyramids unfinished due to the paucity of their food supplies, they were given more garlic! (Although it’s tempting to think that they might have been craving something else...)
Try this easy Roast garlic with crusty bread recipe.