20 Fascinating Facts About the History, Uses, and Benefits of Garlic

Fascinating Facts About Garlic


The pungent aroma of garlic is unmistakable. As soon as you slice into a clove, the sharp scent fills the air. But beyond its intense flavor, garlic has a rich history and surprisingly versatile uses.

Garlic has been prized as a culinary ingredient and medicinal cure for thousands of years. Today, it remains a staple in cuisines around the world. Whether roasted, sautéed, or raw, garlic adds a pop of flavor.

In this article, we’ll explore 20 fascinating facts about garlic. You’ll learn about:

  • The origins and early history of garlic
  • The health benefits of garlic
  • The active compounds that give garlic its aroma and healing properties
  • Different varieties of garlic
  • Garlic folklore and pop culture myths
  • Culinary uses and recipes with garlic
  • Non-culinary applications such as pesticides and adhesives

So let’s peel back the layers and uncover some amazing insights about garlic!


1. Origins and Early History of Garlic

Garlic has ancient origins as one of the earliest domesticated crops. Evidence suggests garlic was first cultivated in Central Asia over 6,000 years ago.

From its homeland in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, garlic spread far and wide along trade routes. Ancient Egyptians revered garlic for its healing powers. Greek and Roman soldiers consumed garlic before battles for strength. References to garlic even appear in the Bible and Homer’s Odyssey.

Garlic played a key role in traditional medicine in many ancient cultures:

  • In China, garlic was prescribed to provide energy and relieve fatigue.
  • Ancient Greek physicians used garlic to treat intestinal disorders, infections, and breathing issues.
  • Roman doctors prescribed garlic for everything from bug bites to epilepsy.
  • The Hindi people used garlic as an aphrodisiac and to prevent colds.

Clearly, garlic has been prized for its curative properties for millennia. Even today, science continues to uncover new health benefits of this pungent bulb.

2. Health Benefits of Garlic

Garlic contains compounds like allicin, quercetin, and organosulfur that give it antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming garlic regularly has been linked to:

  • Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Reducing plaque buildup in arteries
  • Boosting immunity against colds and flu
  • Fighting fungal and bacterial infections
  • Improving bone health by increasing estrogen levels
  • Detoxifying heavy metals in the body

Several population studies show an association between increased garlic intake and reduced risk of gastric, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers. The sulfur compounds in garlic may stop cancer cells from multiplying.

Of course, more research is still needed to understand the full extent of garlic’s health benefits. But the scientific evidence so far indicates garlic does pack a powerful medicinal punch.

3. Active Compounds in Garlic


When garlic cloves are crushed, chopped, or chewed, they produce a compound called allicin. Allicin is responsible for garlic’s distinct pungent aroma and many of its health benefits.

Garlic also contains enzymes like alliinase and sulfate. When the clove’s cell walls are damaged, these enzymes mix to form allicin. The allicin produced then quickly breaks down into other sulfur-containing compounds.

Garlic contains 17 amino acids, as well as minerals like selenium and flavonoids like quercetin. The combination of these nutrients is likely responsible for garlic’s therapeutic effects.

Different garlic varieties contain varying levels of compounds based on type of soil, climate, and how long they were stored after harvest. Allicin remains relatively stable in cooked or baked garlic.

4. Varieties of Garlic

There are over 300 varieties of garlic grown around the world! They mainly fall into two categories:

Hardneck garlic – Has a stiff central stalk. It has a rich, robust flavor and stores for 3-6 months. Types include Rocambole, Purple Stripe, and Porcelain.

Softneck garlic – Has a flexible central stalk. It has a milder flavor but longer shelf life of 6-9 months. Types include Artichoke, Silverskin, and Creole.

Some other popular garlic varieties include:

  • Asiatic: Light brown skin and intense flavor
  • Turban: Large cloves with banded purple stripes
  • Monkey: Bulbs with purple-tinged cloves
  • Marbled Purple Stripe: White skin with purple streaks

Different garlic varieties thrive better in certain climates. Hardneck varieties grow well in cooler northern regions, while softneck varieties prefer warmer southern climates.

5. Garlic Production and Consumption

China dominates the global garlic trade, producing over 80% of the world’s garlic supply. In 2017, China produced around 21 million tons of garlic!

India and Bangladesh follow behind China as the 2nd and 3rd largest garlic producers. The United States produces less than 1% of the global garlic supply. Gilroy, California proclaims itself the “Garlic Capital of the World.”

Garlic consumption varies widely by region:

  • Koreans eat the most garlic, at around 8-12 cloves per day
  • In the United States, average consumption is 2-3 pounds per year
  • Europeans consume about 5 pounds per year
  • Indians and Middle Easterners also consume garlic in abundance

That adds up to over 2 million tons of garlic eaten globally each year!

6. Garlic in Folklore and Pop Culture

Garlic has taken on many supernatural associations throughout history:

  • Ancient Egyptians swore oaths on garlic to prove their truthfulness
  • Ancient Greeks ate garlic before sports events and hung braids in temples
  • European folklore promoted garlic to ward off vampires and evil spirits
  • Hindu culture warned against garlic during fasts or pilgrimages

This mystical reputation persists in pop culture. Famous vampire-hunting kits contained garlic to repel the undead. Garlic is also jokingly feared by pizza delivery drivers and IT professionals to repel needy customers or coworkers.

In England, garlic wreaths are traditionally hung outside homes on New Year’s Eve to bring prosperity and protection. Greek and Roman brides carried bouquets of garlic and other herbs to bring good fortune.

7. Culinary Uses of Garlic


Garlic is a staple in cuisines across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It provides a savory, pungent punch to dishes.

Here are some tips for cooking with garlic:

  • Roast whole bulbs or individual cloves for a sweet, mellow flavor
  • Add minced raw garlic at the end of cooking for a strong bite
  • Saute crushed or sliced garlic in oil or butter to mellow its bite
  • Make a creamy aioli sauce by emulsifying raw garlic with olive oil
  • Infuse olive oil with garlic cloves to make flavored cooking oil
  • Make a versatile garlic butter by pureeing softened butter with minced garlic

Garlic pairs well with seafood, poultry, bread, pasta, and vegetables. It’s also great in dips, dressings, marinades, and sauces. Keep garlic on hand to amplify the flavor of any dish!

8. Non-Culinary Uses of Garlic

Beyond cooking, garlic has served many purposes:

  • As a traditional medicine to treat infections, digestive issues, and heart conditions
  • As a pest deterrent and fungicide for agricultural crops
  • As an adhesive glue, like in mending porcelain or gilding decorative items
  • As an ingredient in skin cleansers and treatments for warts, acne, and psoriasis
  • To repel snakes and insects like mosquitos and ants
  • To attract cats for pest control when rubbed on feet or shoes!

Garlic contains over 100 biologically useful compounds like allicin and ajoene. This makes it versatile for uses beyond the kitchen.

9. Harvesting Garlic

Garlic is typically planted in fall and harvested in late spring or early summer. Farmers must time the harvest carefully based on when the bottom leaves begin to brown and wither.

Harvesting garlic is very labor-intensive:

  • Bulbs are loosened carefully by hand to avoid bruising
  • Stalks are trimmed to one inch above the bulb
  • Garlic is left loosely bundled to dry in shaded, well-ventilated areas
  • After 2-3 weeks of curing, the outer wrappers are trimmed
  • Bulbs are cleaned, graded by size, and prepared for distribution

Proper curing and drying help extend garlic’s storage life up to 8 months.

10. The Stinking Rose

Garlic’s intense, lingering aroma has earned it some colorful nicknames. It is often referred to as the “stinking rose” or “rustic treasure.”

When garlic is cut or crushed, enzymes activate to produce allicin, the compound responsible for its pungent smell. Other smelly sulfur compounds are also released.

Garlic breath is notoriously difficult to get rid of. The smell comes from allyl methyl sulfide (AMS), which is absorbed into the blood during digestion. The AMS is later expelled through the lungs.

Chewing parsley, mint or cinnamon can help mask garlic breath temporarily. But the only real cure is proper oral hygiene and avoidance of raw garlic before social events!

11. Growing Garlic


Garlic is easy to grow at home with a few simple guidelines:

  • Plant garlic cloves root-side down in fall about 2 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart
  • Choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil
  • Fertilize monthly and keep soil moist but not soaked
  • Cut scapes once they curl to encourage bulb growth
  • Stop watering once half the leaves turn brown
  • Harvest bulbs when leaves are 50% browned and dried out
  • Cure bulbs for 2+ weeks in a cool, dry place

Homegrown garlic often has a stronger, more pungent flavor profile. Try growing different garlic varieties!

12. A-Peeling History

Archaeologists found garlic peel imprints on clay floors and postholes inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, indicating it was consumed around 1300 BCE.

Highlights from garlic’s other ancient applications:

  • Used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda
  • Given to Egyptian and Greek laborers for strength
  • Fed to Greek Olympians and Roman gladiators
  • Prescribed by Hippocrates for infections and respiratory issues
  • Placed in the tomb of King Tutankhamun for the afterlife
  • Eaten by Hebrew slaves in Egypt and later mentioned in the Bible

Clearly, the appeal of garlic spans centuries and continents!

13. Navigating the Bulb

The main parts of a garlic bulb include:

  • Clove – Individual segment containing a germ capable of sprouting
  • Wrapper – Papery white skin covering each clove
  • Bulbils – Small aerial bulbs that can be planted
  • Scape – Flowering stalk that coils above the leaves
  • Roots – Fibrous roots that anchor the plant underground

The structure of garlic bulbs differs between hardneck and softneck varieties. Hardnecks produce a woody central stalk while softnecks have a soft, pliable stalk.

14. Allium Sativum

green garlic

The botanical name for garlic is Allium sativum. It belongs to the genus Allium, which includes other aromatic, bulb-forming plants like onions, shallots, leeks, and chives.

There are two main subspecies of Allium sativum:

  • Ophioscorodon: Hardneck garlic like Rocambole, with fan-shaped heads of cloves
  • Sativum: Softneck garlic like Artichoke, with symmetrical rings of cloves around a central stalk

Garlic’s species name “sativum” means “cultivated” in Latin, reflecting its long history of agricultural domestication.

15. Going Green Garlic

Green garlic refers to young, immature garlic bulbs harvested early before cloves fully form. It has an exceptionally mild, sweet flavor.


Green garlic stalks look similar to scallions or leeks. The small, tender bulbs can be eaten whole after minimal cooking. Both the white bulb base and green leaves are edible.

Some popular ways to use green garlic:

  • Sauteed in olive oil or butter
  • Chopped raw in salads, salsas, pesto
  • Roasted whole alongside vegetables
  • Pureed into soups, hummus or guacamole
  • Infused in vinegar, oil, butter or honey

Enjoy green garlic when you want mellow garlic notes without an intense bite.

16. Chemical Reaction

When garlic cells are ruptured, an enzyme called alliinase rapidly converts a compound called alliin into allicin.

Allicin contains sulfur atoms that give crushed garlic its characteristic smell and potential health benefits. It also causes garlic’s spicy flavor by triggering receptors in our mouth and nose.

Cooking garlic prevents this chemical reaction from occurring. Letting crushed garlic rest for 10 minutes before heating allows some allicin to develop.

17. Famous Garlic Lovers

Throughout history, many famous figures have extolled the virtues of garlic:

  • Aristotle prescribed garlic for digestive issues and to strengthen the heart
  • Hippocrates promoted garlic for respiratory problems and wound healing
  • Pliny the Elder recommended garlic for 61 different ailments
  • Alexander Neckam wrote about garlic’s medicinal impact in De Naturis Rerum
  • Mahatma Gandhi included garlic in his vegetarian diet and Ayurvedic remedies
  • Louis Pasteur studied allicin and garlic’s antibacterial effects

Clearly, great minds love garlic!

18. Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy, California has hosted the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival since 1979. The three-day festival celebrates Gilroy’s agricultural heritage and status as the “Garlic Capital of the World.”

Highlights include:

  • Garlic cook-off competition
  • Festival food with creative garlic dishes
  • Hundreds of vendors and exhibitors
  • Live entertainment on three stages
  • Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen pageant
  • Garlic braiding demonstrations

Over 100,000 garlic lovers attend each year!

19. Word Origins

The English word “garlic” comes from Old English “garleac,” meaning “spear plant.” This refers to its pointed leaves.

The genus name Allium is derived from the Celtic word “all,” meaning burning or stinging. This reflects garlic’s hot, pungent flavor.

The Latin word “sativum” means “cultivated” and evokes garlic’s long agricultural history.

20. Nutritional Value

One raw garlic clove (3 grams) contains:

  • Calories: 4.5.
  • Fat: 0g.
  • Sodium: 0.5mg.
  • Carbohydrates: 1g.
  • Fiber: 0.1g.
  • Sugars: 0g.
  • Protein: 0.2g.
  • Vitamin C: 0.9mg.

Garlic also contains trace amounts of copper, iron, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, and vitamin B1.

While nutrient-dense, garlic’s real benefits come from bioactive compounds like allicin and quercetin that provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects.


From ancient medicine to modern pesto, garlic has proven its versatility and value over millennia. With its rich history, diverse uses, and unique chemistry, this “stinking rose” offers a wealth of intriguing facts. After learning these 20 tidbits, consider incorporating more garlic into your own life – just have some gum or mouthwash handy!

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