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Home > Glossary > Glossary E - L > Garlic





About Garlic

Garlic and ginger are the two most common ingredients integral to Chinese cooking. The unique and pungent flavor of garlic is featured in meals throughout China, particularly to northern Chinese cooking, where harsh winters and a short growing season mean residents rely on members of the onion family (such as garlic and spring onions) to season their food.

History of Garlic

Garlic has long claimed our fascination. Ancient cultures valued its medicinal qualities; the Egyptians fed the slaves garlic to give them enough energy to continue building the pyramids. The Romans swore by it, feeding it to their gladiators before battles. Medieval banquets included garlic, and there is some evidence that it provided protection against the plague. More recently, scientific researchers have credited garlic with the ability to cure everything from high blood pressure to diabetes.

Garlic also rates a mention in several literary classics, including Shi-ching (the Book of Songs), a Chinese classic compiled by Confucius that features the work of poets from approximately the 12th through to the 7th century BC. Then there's the honored place garlic holds in legend and mythology, the most notorious being the belief that a wreath of garlic renders you safe from blood-deprived vampires.

Despite the smell, garlic was reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Interestingly, despite its widespread use in China, ancient Buddhist doctrine forbids the eating of garlic. Along with leeks, it is one of the five strong-flavored foods that Buddhists must avoid, or else "in their present life they will find foul sores breaking out on their bodies, and in the next life they will fall into the hell of incessant suffering".

Origin of Garlic

It is difficult to trace the origins of garlic, which is a member of the same family as the onion. Some experts believe it originated in Russia's Siberian desert and then spread throughout Asia, the Mediterranean and finally Europe. But whatever its birthplace, the Chinese were using garlic by 3,000 BC. As for ginger, experts say it is probably native to southeast Asia - certainly the Chinese have been aware of ginger since ancient times.

Chinese herbologists have long been convinced that both garlic and ginger have medicinal properties. Herbal preparations containing ginger or garlic - along with other ingredients - have been used to treat everything from HIV symptoms to Raynard's disease, a rare condition characterized by an unusual sensitivity to the cold. And ginger tea is often prescribed as a digestive aid. But whether or not you're a fan of herbal remedies, it is a fact that both plants are conducive to good health: ginger is loaded with Vitamin C, while garlic contains vitamins A, C, and D.

In the Kitchen

Garlic's pungent odor features prominently in Szechuan and northern-style cooking. Szechuan dishes are famous for their incendiary spicing. Less well known is the fact that in China's northern area, where harsh winters make for a short growing season, northerners rely on the onion family - including garlic and green onions - for seasoning their food.

Ginger is a common ingredient in Cantonese cooking, which is characterized by subtle seasoning and a light touch with sauces. Szechuan cooks also make liberal use of ginger, and many dishes contain both ginger and garlic. Hot and Sour Soup, originating in Szechuan, is one example. But these are generalizations: both garlic and ginger can be found in dishes throughout China. And of course, both of these aromatics are used to flavor the oil in stir-fries.

Buy Garlic

When shopping for ginger, look for firm bulbs without any dampness and no dark or broken spots on the skin. Store in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator). When it comes time to cook, use the side of a knife or cleaver to smash the ginger - this will make it easier to peel.

Buy Garlic

Storing Garlic

Garlic should be stored in a dry and cool place and not refrigerated.


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