The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits: Garlic
ORIGIN AND TRAITSIn this month’s “Unique Foods of Greece” let us begin with an enigma; what has a distinctive flavor, is a guilty pleasure you regret consuming due to its aftertaste, yet offers you a plethora of health benefits? Despite the vast variety of alimentary goods, I think it comes as an easy guess that garlic is the answer. Known for its intense and spicy taste, garlic is one of the most natural antitoxin, antibiotic and antiseptic food sources.
Originating from the depths of Mongolia, garlic spread out to the entire world for its culinary and healing properties. In Egypt, allium sativum was considered to be sacred, and pyramid workers are said to have consumed a clove of garlic daily for tonic and antiseptic reasons. Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, recommended its consumption claiming that garlic was a remedy for about 60 diseases. In ancient Greece, the athletes participating in the Olympic Games would consume a clove of garlic for an energy boost.
On the market there are different types of garlic, varying in the shape, colour (pink, red or white) and quality which is higher in warmer climates. In Greece, garlic is imported from southern countries throughout the year, while inland production takes place from April to October, mainly in the regions of Arcadia and Thrace.
With its triple status; long-lasting, easy to consume and healthy, garlic is a superfood worth integrating into your diet.
BENEFITS AND HEALING PROPERTIES
Since antiquity, when garlic was considered to be a panacea, the popular vegetable has been widely used for its medicinal properties. Containing the essential oils of allicin and allisatin which have high antimicrobial and antivirus properties, garlic may effectively protect against common infections such as colds and flu, but also against pathogenic microorganisms including tuberculosis and staphylococcus.
A rich source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and manganese, garlic helps maintain proper cardiovascular function by reducing the amount of free radicals in the blood. Moreover, garlic consumption helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels while helping prevent atherosclerosis and diabetes.
Garlic acts as a tonic, it enhances physical endurance, helps reduce fatigue after exercise and incidents of rapid heartbeat. Due to its antioxidant action, garlic offers anti-ageing properties and promotes longevity.
In cosmetics, garlic has been used to reduce undesirable hair growth and skin allergies.
USE AND DOSAGE
When buying garlic opt for cloves which are tight to the touch, not soft and wrinkled. Unpeeled, it can be stored in a dry place of medium temperature avoiding sun and humidity. If you peel and cut it, shelf-life is reduced.
In order to benefit from its health properties, you can consume it raw or in a variety of foods in order to spice them up with its special flavor and penetrating aroma. It can be used as a seasoning in meat, poultry, fish, sauces and olive oil.
In Greece, garlic is a key ingredient in skordalia (potato and garlic mash) and tzatziki dip.
Garlic can be consumed daily; be aware, however, that overconsumption may irritate the stomach and cause digestive problems such as heartburn.
RESEARCH AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
The first person to note the antibiotic properties of garlic was Louis Pasteur in 1858. This is why, during World War II, garlic was called Russian Penicillin; when the Russian government ran out of antibiotics they used garlic as a medicinal treatment for soldiers.
Nowadays, research is extensive and constant regarding the many health benefits of allium sativum. According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists found that garlic oil may help fight against cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of death for patients suffering from diabetes. ¹
In a review published in the Journal of Nutrition, the consumption of garlic was analyzed in relation to cardiovascular disease. It concluded to the observation that “garlic seems to hold promise in reducing the parameters associated with cardiovascular disease” while underlining the need for following in-depth studies. ²