Medicine, Myth and Magic
Garlic Gastronomy
The Shifting Garlic Map
Cultivation: From Bulb to Crop
Varieties: Quality and Quantity
From Field to Warehouse:Selection and Storage

From Warehouse to Market: The PackingRevolution

From Subtler toStrong: Turning Garlic's Flavor

Garlic is to Spanish cooking what the guitar is to its music and, likethe guitar, it has acquired a particular character and history in Spanishhands. For over two thousand years "the stinking rose," as theGreeks called it, has grown around the peninsula, flavoring regional cookingand lending its medicinal powers to numerous folk-remedies. In the lastforty years, it has also become a major commercial crop. Today Spain isEurope's leading producer, its garlic fields covering an area larger thanany Spanish city.

Exactly when and how garlic arrived in Spain is not known. It may havebeen grown by the native Celtiberians. Certainly, it was highly rated bythe Phoenicians and Greeks who traded with them, while the Roman colonizersenshrined it in two dishes that remain classics of Spanish Mediterraneancooking. One is alioli, a thick glossy emulsion of pounded garlic and oliveoil, which is said to have been dreamed up by the Emperor Nero. The otheris ajo blanco, Andalusia's milkywhite chilled gazpacbo made with almonds,garlic, vinegar, bread, salt, and water.

Medicine, Myth and Magic [TOP]
In the centuries since then, Iberian garlic-eating has continued to beintertwined with its medicinal powers. In his first-century Historia Natural,Pliny listed 61 uses for it. Believed to hold magical powers, it was hungin the porches of Roman houses to keep evil spirits away. The Andalusis,or Spanish Muslems, viewed it more warily but regarded it as the best curefor snake bites and poisons. On the road to Santiago, Christian pilgrimsate it to protect themselves against drinking infected water. It was highlyconsidered in medieval medical treatises, prescribed for toothache, constipationand colds. "Of garlic, all medicine with universal experience proclaimsit to heat and relax the stomach," wrote historian Friar Juan of Pinedain the late 16th century. He continued in a down-to-earth vein, "andwhat it most does in our service is to be a strong wall and defense againstthe pólvora of wine." Literally, pólvora means gunpowderor fireworks. Folk-wisdom, stored in Spain's vast repertoire of proverbs,emphasizes its powers to build up the body's resistance. "En tiemponevado, un ajo vale lo que un caballo," runs one saying. "Insnowy weather, garlic is worth as much as a horse." More remarkableis another saying, "ajo bervido, ajoperdido," or "garlicboiled, garlic lost," which anticipates what medical researchers nowconsider true of its active elements. And it seems that this popular wisdomdid not end in well-meaning words: Englishman John Minsheu wrote aftera trip to Spain in 1627, "the common sort do live by it, so that itis the poor man's Physicke and Food." In a deeply religious world,these medicinal powers were seen to extend seamlessly into magical ones,such as shielding the garlic carrier, or wearer, against wild animals andevil spirits. Shepherds rubbed garlic on themselves and their flocks todiscourage foxes, wolves, and snakes; bullfighters carry cloves as a charmagainst the bull charging them; Galician country women still wear it intheir hats or bags to fend off the evil eye. As a curious epilogue, inthe centuries after Columbus took garlic to the New World via the DominicanRepublic, Spaniards transplanted many of these customs there. In his splendidThe Book of Garlic, Lloyd J. Harris lists just a few of the garlic remediesin American southwestern folk-medicine, from the Santa Fe and Rio Grandearea, to cure ailing horses, dogs, and humans. Since Louis Pasteur firstrecognized garlic as an antiseptic in 1858, scientific research has suggestedthat we still don't know the full extent of its powers. Garlic's oil -around 10% of its content - contains some 14 substances, notably two sulphurcompounds called allicin (released by an enzyme when the clove is opened)and ajeone. They help to make it anti-fungal, antiseptic, anti-coagulantand anti-oxidant, plus effective in treating viruses resistant to laboratoryantibiotics, lowering blood pressure, and dilating arteries. One surveyof 25 clinical studies on cardiovascular disease, by Professor Andrew Neilof Oxford University (International Congress of Garlic, Berlin, 1991),suggests that regular garlic eating can lower cholesterol levels by 10%and cut the risk of cardiac failure by 25%. All this in a clove - and manyof garlic's properties have yet to be researched.

Garlic Gastronomy [TOP]
Contrary to the idea that Spaniards are a race of rabid garlic cooks andeaters, a myth largely put about by English travel-writers such as RichardFord, its gastronomic worth has been the subject of debate in Spain asmuch as elsewhere. Perhaps this was the inheritance of the Andalusian Muslemswho used it sparingly in their aromatic scented cooking, usually alongsidelemon juice and almond milk. They recommended it shouldn't be eaten raw,especially before going to mosque. Their contemporary Alfonso XI, kingof Castile and Leon, founded a knight's order in 1368 which forbade garlic-eatingat pain of banishment from court for a month. The order was finally dissolvedby French-born Philip V in the 18th century. Isabel of Castile is alsosaid to have rehised to eat garlic, and courtly cookbooks from the 14thto 17th century, such as the Libre de Sent Sovi and Libro delatte de Cozinaare noticeably lighthanded with it, using it for certain specific dishesand sauces, but not indiscriminately as foreign travelers were later tofind in highway posada, or tavern cooking. One reason for abstinence, asin classical Rome, was that garlic was seen as the food of the poor. Cervantesput his finger on the matter in Don Quixote's advice to Sancho when hewas going to rule the Isla Barataria: "Do not eat garlic and onions,for their smell will reveal that you are a peasant." Even in the late19th century, novelist and foodwriter Emilia Pardo Bazdn warned ladiesaway from being found with a "treasonable plebeian clove." Abstainingfrom garlic, which was almost universal to shepherds' and gypsies' dishes,was a way of spelling out social position. The overuse of garlic in thepoverty-stricken years after the Civil War produced another backlash againstit. "Spanish cooking is full of garlic and religious concerns,"complained writer Julio Camba. He accused cooks of cauterizing people'stastebuds to cover up for lack of other ingredients. Today, though, thereturn to well-stocked larders and the revival of regional cooking hasredressed that balance and ensured garlic a subtle place in kitchens ofthe highest caliber. A few Spaniards may abstain, but most eat an averageof some 1.42 kilos (3-3 pounds) of garlic a year.

The Shifting Garlic Map [TOP]
Today most Spaniards buy, rather than grow their garlic as they once did.To supply that demand, commercial production has quadrupled since 1950.Even so, of some 200,000 tons now grown every year, only a fifth is surplusproduce for export. That spectacular rise in production has been possiblethrough the steady expansion of growing area to cover over 30,000 hectares(over 75,000 acres). A first jump came in the mid 1950s in the dry, wideplains of Castile-La Mancha - Don Quixote country - long famed for itsintensely flavored, smallbulbed ajo morado, or Purple garlic. The smalltown of Pedrofieras, its growing and commercial capital, handles some 70,000tons of garlic a year and the whiff hangs potently in the air, especiallyat planting and harvesting time. Twenty years later came a second majorboom, this time in Andalusia to produce Europe's earliest garlic in mid-May.Growing continues to spread steadily into different provinces - Cordova,Jaen, Granada and Malaga - with a mix of La Mancha purple, imported whiteand early varieties. Most recently, Extremadura has joined the new producingregions with plantations in irrigated areas around Badajoz and Caceres.At the other end of the season, Castile-Leon's growers harvest late purpleand white garlic from June to July. One splendid reminder of earlier timeshere, is the garlic fair in Zamora, on St. Peter's day, (the 28th of June)when the main square fills up with small growers sitting behind huge pilesof decoratively plaited garlic. Garlands of garlic are also worn by thosewho join the procession to the church. The shifting garlic map has alsobeen marked by the arrival of new garlic fiestas, such as those in Chinchónand Pedron eras, notable as much for their wine as garlic consumption.

Cultivation: From Bulbto Crop [TOP]
Garlic growing itself has changed little in the change of scale from vegetablegarden to commercial plantation. The seed, a skinned clove of garlic, isplanted in rows, apex-up, just under the soil's surface. Today, over three-quartersof Spanish garlic is still hand-planted, although mechanization is creepingin. Although it isn't a demanding crop, certain conditions bring out thebest of garlic's qualities. Fertile, loose, welldrained soil, a chillystart to life but plenty of sunlight and warmth later as it matures, areneeded to give finished bulbs with large, even cloves. Planting, then,falls between October and mid January. Garlic is not a thirsty crop - drynessmakes for a potent aroma and flavor - but light spring rains are crucialand most commercial Spanish production uses irrigation as back-up insurance.By March to April the garlic fields are green with the shoots. At thisstage they can be pulled up and cooked, a Spanish delicacy called ajostiemos. A month later the bulb begins to fatten and divide. Harvestingcomes before the plant throws out its white star-like flower. Most of thenational crop is still hand-pulled from the earth and dried traditionallyfor ten to twelve days in a dry sunny place. But times are changing: mechanicalharvesters and hot-air dryers are coming into use in larger commercialplantations since rain during harvesting can blight the crop. Since garlicexhausts the soil, which in turn leads to bulb degeneration, it is usuallygrown in a two to three year cycle, rotated with cereals.

Varieties: Quality andQuantity [TOP]
Since 1990, the emphasis has switched away from planting towards new varietiesand seed improvement of native types as a means of raising production.So far, white and early garlic varieties have been on the up. Traditionalto the north especially Galicia, the Ebro valley, and Asturias - whitegarlic spread south as a response to export demand for large, competitivelypriced bulbs. Early-season garlic with its large, flattish, veined bulbsand asymmetrical fat cloves is also popular, especially in Andalusia. Initiallyit was grown from imported seed to raise yields, but today growers mainlyuse locally improved stock developed through research schemes by distributorsand exporters. Seed is grown from new cells taken from the apex of clovesin the laboratory, then in the third and fourth year these are plantedout to provide seed-banks. Thanks to such schemes, yields have risen toover 15 kilos (33 pounds) per hectare (2.471 acres) for white garlic. Inthe next few years, however, native purple garlic still the most prizedby Spanish gourmets and chefs, like its French cousin, the pink Rose deLautrec - is expected to reach the same yields. The first crop of improvedpurple garlic will be harvested in La Mancha this year and its bulb- sizeis expected to rise by 400% within a few seasons. At the same time, researchersare developing a classification system so that Spanish purple will soonbe a registered variety. It may go on from there to become a Denominationof Origin. Another new development since 1990 has been organic garlic growingfor overseas markets. In fact, much Spanish garlic has always been chemical-freesince pests are few. But organic growers, registered both in Spain andabroad, are increasing. With large reserves of virgin land, the only limitto production is customers' willingness to pay the added cost of smallscale,registered organic production which translates into higher crop prices.Fresh green garlic cultivation is also on the up in Levante and Andalusia,but as yet little is exported.

From Field to Warehouse:Selection and Storage [TOP]
Just as important to final quality is the handling of garlic after harvesting.Long gone are the days of roaming garlic-sellers who hawked bulbs loosefrom sacks or plaits. Today's middlemen, whether cooperatives or privatecompanies, group the produce of hundreds of growers and operate from giantwarehouses, where the bulbs are cleaned, graded, stored, and packed fortheir various markets. "In the garlic trade today," commentsAndres Ballester of Ajos Imperial, specialist exporters, "we sellservice, quality and then garlic, in that order." Chilled storage,allowing half the crop to be held back for sale during the second halfof the year, has made the wrinkly, dusty cloves of late winter months athing of the past. The only side-effect of mild chilling (at -2 to -4-C/-28.4 to 24.8'F) is slight water-loss, so intensifying the flavor. Beforehand,bulbs go through an initial cleaning and selection process to ensure thatthey are wellformed, without blemishes, and tightly closed, with unbrokenskins to help them keep well. Final quality control comes immediately beforesale. The five grades - ranging from Extraflor, with a diameter up to 6cm/2-3 inches, down to small Segunda, half the size - depend on size, butsome large exporters also now register precise weight, too. Rejects, calleddestrios - which make up 40% of the garlic for export go to specialistSpanish companies that make liquid and dried garlic powders and granules.Recently, they have also begun to move into the health market with garlicpearls. This market is likely to grow in the future.

From Warehouse to Market: ThePacking Revolution [TOP]
Traditionally, garlic was exported loose in octagonal slatted crates designedto keep the contents well-aired for long sea journeys to markets such asBrazil and Puerto Rico. That trade still exists - Brazil buys some 12,000tons a year - and garlic is also exported by plane to other distant markets,such as Canada and the Middle East. But since the mid-1980s, the markethas regeared towards Europe, especially its northem countries where growinginterest in garlic's medicinal value, the cosmopolitan eating habits ofmultiracial societies, as well as the taste for all things Mediterranean,are steadily pushing up consumption. In some of these markets, such asBritain, consumption is rising by around 10% per year. Flexibility, oradapting to the garlic-eating habits of each country, is the name of thegame. The Irish like white garlic, the Belgians prefer red or purple; theFrench like to buy bulbs loose off traditional plaits, while the Britishlike theirs mildly flavored and firmly controlled in nets and baby boxes.The Swedes and Swiss will pay the premium for organically grown bulbs,and the Germans use some of their imports for pharmaceutical purposes."What we do notice," comments Joaquin Hidalgo, of Coopaman, aleading Manchegan exporter, "is that customers learn to pick out thequality of Spanish garlic in the flavor given by its high oil content."In response to those different tastes, exporters have developed new packingand presentation ranging from traditional plaits (trenzas) and conicalbouquets (racimos) to nets, boxes, molded trays or shrink-wrapped basketscontaining anywhere from a couple of heads to a kilo of garlic. Labelsare printed up to order in different languages and are firmly stapled onbefore the garlic is packed into lorries to reach customers in the shopswithin a week. The packing is not just decorative; despite appearances,garlic is fragile, with bruising appearing three to four months after handling.And the old-fashioned plaits are one of the best ways of locking in garlic'sflavor and aroma.

From Subtlerto Strong: Turning Garlic's Flavor [TOP]
Spanish cooking's reputation for uncontrolled blasts of garlic is a blacklegend of he past. In these days of reater wealth and variety, is usedin a range of ways to give different effects, some so subtle you hardlynotice them. "The flavor of garlic should be suggested or insinuated,"comments Manuel de la Osa Moya, a garlic specialist and chef-proprietorof Las Rejas restaurant in Pedroneras. His light modem cooking based onregional flavors has won many awards and loyal customers. "It neverneeds dominate a dish or come back after eating."

When buying garlic, press to check it is crisp and hard; the green sproutcan always be removed. Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Don't be temptedto use old dried garlic; its rancid flavor carry through to the final dish.One basic rule to avoid the flavor of garlic overpowering other ingredientsis to pull out he green germ you may find at the heart of the clove; itcontains the most vicious flavor. A second rule, according to Manuel, isto cut garlic only just before use. "Oxidized garlic has a reallyunpleasant taste. Cutting it open in advance is a mistake." For anydish, it is almost the last ingredient he prepares, often chopping it finelyin his hand before adding it stright into the pan. Equally, he crushesgarlic with olive oil to stop it from oxidizing. On the other hand, heis an advocate of breaking and bruising rather than cutting garlic to bringout the best of its flavor for oils, frying, stews, etc. (if crushed whole,the clove can be removed too). Similarly, he chops cloves with the backof a knife.

The strength of flavor from garlic depends not so much on the quantityyou use as the way you cut it open and cook it; the substances that producea harsh aroma and flavor form as the cells are broken in contact with oxygen.Long, slow cooking in its skin, for example, leaves garlic nuttily sweet.At the other end of the gamut, crushed raw garlic has an abrasive kickfrom rapid oxidization. Here are some of the different effects used inSpanish cooking: A lick of garlic.. toast rubbed over with a halved cloveof garlic and dribbled with olive oil is an Andalusian staple, for breakfastor snack, with or without salt. Rubbing the inside of a dish before cookingin it leaves a subtle hint; in a salad bowl, it's stronger. Roasted wholegarlic: gives a sweet, pulpy flesh, good in salads, mashed for sauces andpurees, or eaten on its own. Rub the cloves over with olive oil and wrapin aluminium foil if you wish. Loose cloves take 15 niinutes; a large headneeds 1 hour at 200' C, 400' F, gas mark 6. Deep-fried garlic: close tobaked garlic's flavor are cloves deep-fried in their skins, called by thepresident of Spain's Garlic Club, Santiago Rosado, Extremefio Oysters.Whole garlic baked in rice: traditional rices cooked either in a paellaor casserole are flavored by placing the whole sauteed head of garlic,with its skin on, in the middle of the rice when you're adding the water.Help yourselves to the cooked cloves. Oil flavored witb fried garlic: heatthe garlic, whole cloves or sliced, in olive oil until golden, not browned,then remove the garlic and use the warm flavored oil straight away. Thecloves can be put on the top of the dish for decoration. Use 12 garliccloves for 18 tbsp olive oil. Quick-frying witb garlic: for cooking prawns,mushrooms or other quick-cooking ingredients al ajillo (with garlic), thincrossways or lengthways slices of the garlic are used, allowing 1-2 clovesper person. If the main ingredient needs more than a few minutes cookingtime, fry it first, drain, then refry briefly with the garlic. Refritoof garlic: chopped garlic is fried and poured over the fish, meat and vegetables,or into bean stews. Try 4 cloves of chopped garlic fried in 6 tbsp oliveoil for 1.5 kg vegetables. Finely diced raw garlic: good scattered overstrong-flavored ingredients such as salted or pickled anchovies, roastedpeppers and so on. Also, a few addicts like to sprinkle it over the yolkof a fried egg with a few drops of vinegar. Preserved raw garlic: halvedheads go straight into escabecbes and other vinegarbased preserves. Thecloves can be eaten from the jar; they are powerfully garlicky. Poundedor crushed raw garlic.- gives the strongest flavor of all. It is used formarinades and adobos, as the base of sauces such as alioli, for flavoringoils, salads, stews and so on.

Generally speaking, garlic taken for medicinal purposes - whether againstflu or colds, to cleanse your system or for heart purposes - is supposedto be taken raw, although it is thought to be as effective cooked for cardiovasculardisease. In his excellent small book Virtudes Curativas del Ajo Jorge SintesPro suggests crushing two cloves of garlic with parsley and olive oil forspreading on bread. For maximum effect, this should be eaten on an emptystomach at breakfast time.

Parsley, mint and cardamom are effective garlic neutralizers, as are aslice of apple or a chlorophyll tablet. Cumin seed and caraway are alsoused traditionally in Castile-La Mancha, where you'll find them, like parsley,in many garlicked dishes. So is a slug of anis or a drink of lemon water.To wash the smell off your hands, rinse them first in cold water beforewashing with soap and hot water.

Our featured story was written by Vicky Hayward, a freelancejournalist, travel writer and editor who lives in Madrid.

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