For more than 6,000 years, people around the world have been using garlic for both medicinal and culinary purposes. It’s no wonder the bulb is still widely used today. A member of the onion family, garlic adds pungent flavour to a range of dishes, while also boosting one’s health. And, the incredibly tough plant is easy to grow, even in Edmonton.
Native to Central Asia, garlic has been a frequent seasoning in Mediterranean, Asian, African and European cooking for centuries. Egyptians worshiped garlic, and the plant was so highly-prized that it was also used as currency. “Garlic was considered a god in Egyptian times because it was so strong,” says Chris Hrynyk, assistant corporate chef at Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group. During the Second World War, British, French and Soviet physicians treated wounded soldiers with garlic juice. “They used to call garlic ‘Russian penicillin’ back in (the Second World War) because Russia forced its soldiers to keep garlic in their pockets,” says Bill Garriock, president of Garlic’s Purity Plus.
Growing Garlic in Edmonton
Jim Hole, co-owner of the Enjoy Centre, says garlic is a tough crop that can be planted in Edmonton with little effort. “There’s nothing too specific about growing it. If you have a good spot in the yard and good sunlight, then you’re set to grow it,” he says. Perry Michetti, associate dean of the school of hospitality and culinary arts at NAIT, also grows his own garlic. He believes more Edmontonians should be doing the same. “Anybody who has a garden in Edmonton has the ability to grow garlic,” says Michetti. One clove per planting hole should be placed about five centimeters deep in soil, either in a pot or in the ground.
“I don’t remember the last time I was sick in the last 25 years,” says Garriock, who attributes his good health to his high garlic intake. Research shows the bulb’s antioxidants could boost the immune system and keep colds and flus away. That’s not all garlic is good for, though. Various studies also show that garlic could reduce heart disease, prevent yeast infections, improve blood circulation, be used to remove a splinter, repel mosquitoes and cold sores, and beat athlete’s foot.
There are few other single ingredients that serve as the inspiration for entire festivals or companies. At Sorrentino’s Restaurant Group, garlic is so well-loved there’s an annual festival for the plant. The festival, now in its 23rd year, has evolved into an opportunity for customers to embrace garlic, while the restaurant raises money for local charities. It kicks off with a garlic stomp and a gala featuring “garlic-based dishes from meatballs to salmon,” says Hrynyk. This year, the kickoff event featured a cinnamon and garlic gelato. Garriock’s company was named after the pungent plant, and he credits the herb with adding flavour to his recipes and naturally increasing their shelf-life. “Garlic is a really good preservative. It keeps the product longer,” he says.
Did you know?
– A new kind of garlic was developed in 2004.
– Black garlic is made by fermenting regular white garlic.
– It ends up a little softer, but looks very similar.
– Fermentation leads to caramelization, which makes black garlic incredibly sweet, like candy.
This recipe for spaghetti all’Aglio e Olio (spaghetti with garlic and oil) is courtesy of Kathryn Joel of Edmonton’s Get Cooking, which offers cooking classes for a range of foodies. “Use the best quality olive oil you can to make this simple but delicious dish,” Joel advises. “The sauce takes just minutes and can be made while the pasta cooks.”
450 g spaghetti
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
150 ml extra-virgin olive oil
A handful flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted boiling water until al dente, then drain.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over a gentle heat and saut the garlic and chilies, stirring until fragrant and lightly golden.
Transfer the cooked spaghetti to a warm serving dish, toss with the garlic, oil and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve.