Garlic is my favorite food. There, I said it. I love garlic, and anyone who knows me well knows this to be true. When thinking about what to write about, I couldn't get garlic out of my mind. There’s nothing that compares to the smell of this herb-like vegetable roasting in the oven or the sound of it sizzling in a pan. Truth be told, if a recipe calls for 3 cloves of garlic I throw in 6. It might be odd to say garlic inspires me, but to be honest, there’s nothing more impressive to me than the potential of such a simple ingredient.

It’s not just a coincidence that garlic is a staple in most cultural cuisines, it’s just that good. There’s no substitutes here; garlic is one of a kind and has edge like no other. Even the most amateur cooks can develop deep flavor from garlic through basic cooking techniques. I’m not quite sure if it’s the deep, sharp flavor that I really enjoy or the wealth of nutritional benefits it contains, but all I can say is that I'm garlic’s biggest fan. So here's a love letter to garlic.  

Anatomy of Garlic

Nicolette Schnettgoecke

But before we get into the details of how to use garlic, let’s discuss what garlic actually is. Is it a vegetable? Or maybe an herb? After doing my research, I learned that garlic is neither a vegetable nor a herb but rather a member of the lily family. The lily family also includes common foods such as onion, shallots, and leeks. Garlic is a bulb that grows underground. The developed bulb is called a head which contains 10 to 20 individual sections called cloves. Each clove has a paper-like wrapping surrounding the exterior that is not edible and is removed before eating. 

Ways to Prepare Garlic

garlic, vegetable
Sarah Schuette

The ways to chop, cook, and prepare garlic are diverse: thinly sliced lengthwise and browned until golden; smashed with the back of your knife and throw into sauces and stews; roasted in the oven to golden perfection; even eaten raw if that suits your fancy.

Roasting garlic is as simple as keeping the garlic head intact, cutting off about ¼ inch off the top of the head to expose the cloves inside, drizzle with olive oil, and pop into a 400°F oven for 40 minutes. 

Nicolette Schnettgoecke

#spoontip: Roasted garlic takes on a nutty, caramel-like flavor that spreads like butter and can be used as such. Toast up your favorite piece of bread, spread the roasted garlic on top, and enjoy!

If you decide to eat garlic raw, use it with caution because garlic has a strong, aromatic, and pungent flavor. These components of garlic can add spunk to salad dressings or even aid in preventing cold symptoms. You can also finely dice garlic and quickly sautée it in oil which will give you small crispy nuggets of flavor that amp up any dish. Garlic brings more than just flavor, it provides a wide range of health benefits too. 

The Nutritional Benefits

Nicolette Schnettgoecke

The health benefits of garlic stems from the chemical compound, allicin that it contains. Studies have shown that allicin regulates the effects of chemical toxicity on the body. Moreover, garlic aids in preventing cancers, alleviating inflammation, and increasing protein synthesis. New phytotherapy research also suggests that with more clinical trials, garlic may be introduced as a universal antidote against toxic agents. 

Where to Get Garlic

garlic, grab, shop, farmer's market
Caroline Ingalls

Garlic is very accessible; your grocery store may supply whole heads of garlic for those who are ambitious, pre-peeled or pre-diced in a jar for convenience, or even as dried flakes or in powder form. Depending on how you plan to use your garlic will determine your garlic product choice. If you plan to roast your garlic, whole heads of garlic work best because the natural encasement of the cloves helps to maintain moisture and flavor while cooking. Whole heads of garlic can be found in most grocery stores and local farmers markets.

However, if you’re in a bind, don’t be ashamed to use the pre-chopped garlic from a jar! Garlic infused oils are also growing in popularity and are a simple way to add flavor fast. All in all, whatever form of garlic you can get your hands on is the first step to adding a basic to your pantry. 

Writing a love letter to garlic might be a little over the top, but garlic has taught me to appreciate simple foods and the flavor that develops from basic cooking techniques. Whether you're roasting or sautéing, dicing or smashing, using garlic cloves or garlic powder, get inspired by the magic of garlic. Slow down while you're cooking, admire the smells and sounds, and add more garlic because one clove is never enough!