Garlic is a go-to ingredient in just about every cuisine and there is most likely a love/hate relationship in every country to go along with it. Love it for the delicious flavor it brings to so many dishes and irresistible aromas it releases while cooking; hate it for the strong trace it can leave on your breath once consumed.
Essential In Multiple Cuisines
I can recall during the Asian Cuisine course at the Culinary Institute of America, I was lucky enough to receive “The Danny Lee Guarantee” that food would be delicious if you started with his version of Chinese mirepoix, something he referred to as GGS: Ginger/Garlic/Scallion.
In Indian cuisine it is pureed along with other aromatic and flavorful ingredients are the foundation of Indian favorites such as korma and curry.
In Greek cuisine, you can taste it threaded throughout the meal from tzatziki to moussaka.
And of course, Italian! Most notably found in the recipes of Southern Italy. But a little goes a long way. Tasteful moderation and balance, not abandon, are the better mindset as you add it to a dish. I can recall a heavy-handed misstep I made during my early days cooking on the line. I prepared a pasta dish and slid it across the pass to the chef for tasting. My chef slid it back to me… commenting: “This is enough garlic to stop an Italian army.” OKAY! That one was a do-over.
A Garlicky Compound
To geek out for a moment, fresh garlic contains an amino acid called alliin. When the clove is crushed or chopped, it releases an enzyme known as alliinase. The interaction between alliin and alliinase brings about the formation of allicin, which is considered the major biologically active component of garlic. It is also allicin that makes breath unpleasant after eating it. So, we take the good with the bad.
Assertive or Mild?
Assertive and astringent when raw, which is why moderate and balanced dosing is key. However, things change when garlic is cooked. The sometimes-harsh taste of garlic is transformed by sweating, toasting, or roasting.
Natural oils and aromas are released into the food being prepared contributing a first layer of flavor. Adding a touch of color, as in toasting contributes even more to flavor development. The technique of roasting it whole allows each individual clove to soften into a soft, spreadable texture of golden mush that can be used in recipes to add a sweet nutty flavor with deep complexity.
Other Forms of Garlic
Originated by ancient Korean culture, Black garlic is created by applying an aging, almost fermenting process which essentially roasts it in a humidity and temperature-controlled setting over the course of a month or so. Followed by a cooling and drying process. The result is a deep complex flavor caused by the Maillard reaction, which converts the sugar compounds, resulting in hints of balsamic vinegar and molasses. This contributes an umami element to recipes such as sauces, vinaigrettes and glazes.
Spring garlic, also known as young or green garlic, is less mature and does not usually have the papery skins associated with regular garlic. Scallion in its appearance, it’s entirely edible, including the flat green shoots that are still attached. Without having had as much time to develop its sulfur compounds, it is less aromatic and astringent, and it is milder.
This is technically not garlic, but rather a member of the leek family, is also known as Giant or French Garlic. With potential to weigh up to a pound and be the size of a softball, the significantly larger cloves are a strong temptation, as the fewer cloves you have to peel, the faster you’ll be done! Keep in mind the flavor of elephant garlic is milder than true garlic. For this reason, it may be the garlic of choice for raw applications and also for slicing thin and toasting, as the finished garlic chip may be more impressive.
The Show (Usually) Can’t Go On Without It
In short, garlic is the best supporting actor that practically steals the show. As such, the show can’t go on without it! Thankfully it is grown globally which helps it to stay available year-round, so it may go through some seasonally inspired subtle variations in size, aromatics, and texture.
It is available year-round, and some of the specialty items mentioned are seasonal. Ask your Marketing Associate for ordering information. In addition to fresh, ask about chopped, roasted, and peeled for labor saving ideas.
Content provided by Francy Deskin, the Specialties Coordinator for FreshPoint South Florida. She has spent 20+ years in kitchens, including as an Executive Chef, and she loves all things food. Follow FreshPoint South Florida on Facebook and Instagram.
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