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Garlic is a fundamental ingredient in international cuisine. With its characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens when cooked, garlic adds a distinctive aroma to a variety of dishes. It is also thought to have a number of medicinal properties. This article examines garlic’s interesting history, its cultivation and usage in the essential oil industry.
Garlic Through the Ages
A species of the onion family, Alliaceae, garlic’s (Allium sativum L.) close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek and chive. A bulb of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves enclosed in a thin, white, mauve or purple skin. Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, but its origins continue to cause debate among horticulturists. While Allium sativum is thought to have descended from the species Allium longicuspis, which grows in south-west Asia, one theory suggests that wild garlic was first domesticated in the Kirgiz desert of southern Siberia.
Furthermore, there is evidence that garlic was placed in ancient Egyptian tombs as early as 5,000 years ago—King Tutenkhamen’s tomb was found to contain garlic. It also formed part of the diet of the Israelites in Egypt and of the laborers employed by Khufu to construct the pyramids. The builders were often paid in fresh garlic, in part to maintain their strength and stamina. Egyptian men were even reputed to chew on a clove after a night with a mistress so their wives would not smell a rival’s perfume. Meanwhile, numerous references are made to garlic in Chinese literature dating back to 2000 BC. Chinese sacrificial lambs were spiced with garlic to make them more appealing to the gods. It is also praised in ancient Sanskrit writings. Clearly, by 1500 BC, garlic was prevalent, having spread to virtually every civilization in Europe, Asia and North Africa.