Essential Spices and Herbs – Garlic

Garlic has been used by the man during most of recorded history. It is believed to have originated in Central/West Asia. Ancient Indians have used it about 6000 years ago for its medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Over the next thousand years, it spread to middle-east and Egypt to the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. Garlic was used in ancient times as a food seasoning and as a remedy for many common ailments.  Romans and Egyptians fed garlic to warriors and slaves as it was believed to improve their strength.  Garlic was also believed to help ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. People hung garlic in front of their homes as protection and seafarers carried garlic to prevent their ships from sinking in the sea. In medieval times, garlic was considered a remedy for plague and smallpox.

Unlike other spices, garlic always had a stigma. If may have been due to its pungent smell, the belief it has black magical powers, or due to its aphrodisiac powers. 

Americans started warming up to garlic since the 1940s as more and more of its benefits become known. Garlic consumption in America has tripled over the past decade. There are about 20 million tons of garlic is produced in the world with more than half coming out of China.


Garlic is part of the Allium (onion) family and is closely related to shallots, onions, Chinese onions, chives, and leeks. There are more than 400 varieties of garlic in the world today.

When one thinks of garlic, the first thing that comes to mind is the smell. But once you go beyond that, garlic offers several health benefits.  While most of garlic production and consumption is in Asia, garlic is finding more and more uses in the west in cooking and health supplements. China produces more than ½ of the world garlic production, close to 20 million tons.  More than 90% of garlic production in the USA comes out of California.

Most garlic bulbs are white in color and consist of 10 or more cloves. Garlic enhances the flavor of many dishes such as Indian curries, Chinese food, pizzas, and stir-fries.The main active ingredient in garlic is called polysulphide allicin and is responsible primarily for its medicinal properties.   This compound, allicin, formed when garlic cloves are chopped or crushed, not only provides the medicinal properties but the distinct taste and smell as well.