Here is detailed information on the origins, makeup, and health benefits of garlic, plus a great recipe for braising pork chops, using tomatoes and garlic, which is inspired by a receipt from the 1960’s Time-Life Books Foods of this World. 1
Among its multi-themed books, The Cooking of Italy, provides these great braised pork chops with tomato and garlic sauce. I have adapted this by braising the chops in the oven, rather than on the stove top, as the original instructions require. The method of braising in the oven brings out the best of flavors in food; my recent entries on Cote de Porc Sauce Nenette and Braised Cabbage exemplify this.
Background of Garlic
Garlic (Allium sativum L. family Liliaceae) is a species in the genus Allium, a group of plants in the lily family, in which there are more than 500 species; these are native to the northern temperate regions. About twenty of these 500 species are important human foods that have been prized for thousands of years. 2
Their antiquity can be seen in reference to the incident in Exodus in 1230 B.C., when the Israelites lamented in the wilderness: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick…” 3
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion (Amaryllidaceae) family. It is believed that garlic originated from Allium longiscuspis, as it does not appear in the wild as a species of its own; the mutation that resulted in garlic probably took place in central Asia. 4
How Garlic Grows
The name garlic is an Anglo-Saxon word that meant “spear-leek”, or rather a leek with a slim, pointed leaf blade instead of a broad, open one. 5
The bulbs of both onions and garlic are made up of a central stem bud and surrounding leaf bases. Each leaf base swells with stored nutrients during one growing season, which then supplies them to the bud during the next season. Onions, garlic, and most of their relatives are primarily grown for their underground bulbs-swollen leaf bases-that store energy for the beginning of the next growing season. 6
Note: an onion is a multi-layered bulb, or swollen leaf base; a garlic bulb or “clove” consists, however, of a single, swollen storage leaf, of which there are a dozen or more of these cloves tightly fit together in a head of garlic. 7
Sweetness of Cooked Garlic Is Due to Fructose Sugars
Garlic and its relatives, in the onion family, accumulate energy stores in chains of fructose sugars, rather than in starches; thus, long, slow cooking breaks these sugars down to produce a marked sweetness, a delicious, savory quality. This cooking process transforms the strong, pungent, sulfury flavor of garlic; this strong, offensive raw flavor of garlic was originally meant to be a chemical defense in the plant, to deter animals from eating it. (See Sage Turkey and Braised Cabbage, for more on defensive chemicals in plants.) 8
The Unique Makeup of Garlic Produces Health
Garlic (A. sativum L. family Liliaceae) is used not only as a spice in foods, but also in traditional folk medicines. There is much evidence of a wide spectrum of pharmacological effects of A. sativum and its active compounds with low toxicity; the sulfur compound Allicin-only occurring when garlic is crushed or injured-is the most important alkaloid being responsible for these beneficial effects. Though allicin is thought to be primarily responsible for the antimicrobial effect of garlic, other sulfur compounds have some roles in the effects of the plant as well: diallyl disulphide (DDS) and siallyl trisulfide (DTS) are active against yeasts, while S-allylcysteine (SAC) is the most abundant organosulfur compound present in aged garlic extract . 9
Health benefits of garlic may include a lowering of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eating raw garlic may also prevent heart disease and boost the immune system. It is, however, most important to consult with one’s doctor, before starting any treatment regime. 10
Flavors and Sting of Raw Garlic
Members of the onion family, of which garlic is one, have distinctive flavors coming from their individual defensive use of the element sulfur. When onions, leeks, garlic grow they take up sulfur from the soil and incorporate this into four different kinds of chemical ammunition. These four ammunitions float in the cell fluids, while their “enzyme trigger” is held separately in a storage vacuole. Damaging the cell, by chopping or chewing, releases this enzyme, which breaks the ammunition molecules in half, thus producing irritating, strong-smelling sulfurous molecules; some of these can be very reactive and unstable, therefore they continue to evolve into other compounds. 11
Various Preparation Methods Produce Unique Flavors
The raw flavor of various alliums is created by the mixture of these produced molecules. The resultant flavor from this mixture depends on the initial ammunition, how thoroughly the food was chewed or chopped, the amount of oxygen that gets into the reactions, and finally how long the reactions last. It follows that the preparation methods, such as chopping, pounding in a mortar, or pureeing in a food processor, will all result in distinctive flavors, even with the same allium. Note that the end flavor from this mixture of molecules produced is especially potent in garlic, for it produces a hundred-fold higher concentration of initial reaction products than do either onions or leeks. 12
Flavors Derived from Cooked Garlic
Heat causes the various sulfur compounds in garlic to react with each other and other substances; this produces the range of characteristic flavor molecules, which we experience in cooked garlic. We find that the taste of garlic varies with different dishes; this is because the cooking method, temperature, and medium strongly influence flavor balance. Trisulfides tend to result, when garlic is baked, dried, or microwaved, and these give off characteristic notes of overcooked cabbage. If looking for a strong garlic flavor, high temperatures and the medium of fat are required; together these produce more volatiles and a stronger flavor than do other methods and mediums. Interestingly, the type of fat used also changes flavor: relatively mild garlic compounds persist in butter, but rubbery, pungent notes come to the forefront in more reactive, unsaturated vegetable oils. (I always recommend using avocado or coconut oil in cooking, as olive oil is carcinogenic at high temperatures; for more on healthy oils, see Nutty Coconut Pie.) 13
Unique Flavors Brought on by Blanching and Cooking Garlic Whole
My last entry, on Lentils for an Emergency, employed whole garlic cloves added to the lentils boiled in water; this method and medium produced unique garlic flavors in this dish. Both the cooking of whole garlic and blanching inactivate the flavor-generating enzyme stored in the vacuole. As noted, this enzyme starts the whole reaction process, when released by chopping or chewing raw garlic; thus, sulfurous molecules are produced that continue to evolve into other compounds, and various flavors result as seen above. Boiling, or blanching, the whole garlic in with the lentils limited this enzymatic action, bringing to the dish only slightly pungent, sweet nutty notes. These same relatively mild flavors are also found in garlic blanched whole in a vinegar-base, such as found in pickling. 14
Availability of Garlic Today
The University of Missouri’s Integrated Pest Control claims that China produces most of the world’s garlic and that 90% of all garlic grown in the U.S comes from California. 15
A recent conversation with Trader Joe’s provided the information that most of America’s garlic comes from the Gilroy area in California, which is known-at least in the U.S.-as the garlic capital of the world.
Recently I could not get garlic at our local Fred Meyer’s, when testing this last lentil receipt. They informed me that presently China is not providing garlic on the world market; therefore, many nations are getting it from California, resulting in the shortage with Fred’s supplier. Since this time, this chain store has had it off and on.
Trader Joe’s, however, has carried it throughout this pandemic; they said that theirs comes from various ranches and farms in the Gilroy area. Traders also informed me that for years they haven’t sold any products produced in China, due to the heavy metals and arsenic present there; they guarantee that not a single ingredient, of their private label items, is sourced from China-this is 90% of their stock. They added that they cannot be this definite with the other 10% of their products, which are under their own individual labels.
As referred to at the beginning of this entry, the Israelites were wanting to go back to Egypt, for their appetites were crying out for the luxury of melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions, and garlic. In Egypt they had known these in abundance, but this amidst the cruelest of forced labor, which they forgot in their weakness experienced in the wilderness.
My spirit initially wanted to grieve what had been an appearance of the loss of garlic, a month ago. I had a choice to make, as we all do: will we trust this process we find ourselves in with Covid-19, or hold onto what may have seemed better in the past?
The word of God instructs us:
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” 16
We can choose life and not repeat what the Israelites did, by complaining that this journey is too hard. Instead of looking backwards, we can stand on the promise that the name and blood of Jesus redeem everything, which we place in our Father’s hands. Only God can bring blessing out of this Covid-19 chaos, produced by Satan, and this only, if we ask believing.
Below is my adaptation of Time-Life’s great recipe for Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola, with its healthy garlic. Enjoy its simplicity.
- Waverly Root and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books Foods of this World, The Cooking of Italy (New York: Time Inc., 1968), p. 178.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 310.
- The Holy Bible, KJV, Numbers 11:5.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 311.
- , p. 310.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 310, 311.
- , p. 311.
- The Holy Bible, KJV, Deuteronomy 30: 19,20.
Costoletta di Maiale alla Pizzaiola (Braised Pork Chops w/ Tomato and Garlic Sauce) Adapted from a recipe in Time-Life Books Foods of This World: The Cooking of Italy, 1968. Yields: 5-6 servings. Total prep time: 45 min/ active prep time: 25 min/ Braising time: 20 min.
2 tbsp oil (Avocado is best here, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)
5-6 center-cut loin pork chops, cut 1”-1 1/2” thick (Trader Joe’s carries boneless, French cut, center cut pork loin chops for $6.49/lb.-the best price around for this high-quality pork.)
1 tsp finely chopped garlic (For easy prep, may use 1 cube of frozen garlic, available at Trader’s.)
1/3 c chopped, fresh, oregano leaves, or a combination of 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crumbled (Trader’s generally has a 4” pot of fresh oregano, just enough for this receipt-the original recipe in Time-Life calls for the 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/4 tsp dried thyme.)
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/8 c drained canned tomatoes, pureed (May puree these in a food processor, blender, or Vitamix.)
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp butter
1/2 lb. green pepper, seeded and cut in 2”-by-1/4” stripes (Organic is important, as peppers readily absorb pesticides.)
10 oz fresh, sliced mushrooms (Mushrooms are least expensive and of high quality at Traders.)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Puree the drained tomatoes, using a food processor, blender, or Vitamix (set aside).
- In an ovenproof stockpot with lid, heat 2 tbsp of oil, over medium heat.
Generously salt and pepper the chops, after drying them with a paper towel (drying is important for browning to take place); then, brown them in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate (see photo).
- With a long-handled spoon, degrease the juices, by tipping the pan to the side and skimming most of the fat off the top, leaving about 1 tbsp of fat. Add garlic, oregano, bay leaf, salt, and wine vinegar to meat juices; bring to a boil, stirring constantly; while cooking, be sure to deglaze the pan (scrape the bits of meat and herbs cooked off the bottom, using a plastic spatula).
Stir in the pureed tomatoes and tomato paste. Return the chops to the casserole, bring to a boil, and baste the chops with the sauce (see photo).
- Cover and place in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until there is no color in center, when cut with a knife. Baste occasionally during braising period; rotate chops a time or two, only if all the chops don’t fit in a single layer in stock pot.
- Meanwhile spray bell pepper with a vegetable spray (for an inexpensive, effective spray, may combine 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide). Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
- Cut peppers in 2” x 1/4” stripes.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced peppers and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the mushrooms, evenly coating them with the fat. Cook until desired texture is achieved, stirring occasionally (these will cook a little more later); set aside. See photo.
- When chops are finished cooking, remove them to a platter and cover them with foil; start reheating the vegetables.
- IF the sauce is too thin, place stockpot with sauce on top of burner and boil liquid over med/high heat, stirring constantly (sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon heavily).
- Blend hot vegetables into thickened sauce and spoon over pork chops, either on the platter itself, or on individual plates. (Note: it is possible to prepare this recipe ahead, and at this point put aside the casserole, with the chops sitting in the sauce and vegetables. Three-quarter-hour before serving, bring the casserole with the sauce and chops, to a boil over medium heat; then, place casserole in a preheated oven at 250 degrees, for warming.) See photo.
- Serve and fully enjoy!