Michigan’s garlic: brings strong robust flavor and cardiovascular benefits

Cooking with garlic is an easy and inexpensive way to make bland dishes come to life with vibrant flavor and health benefits.

The farmer’s market season is in full swing and the seasonally fresh foods make eating in Michigan so much more enjoyable. Although garlic is native to Asia, it is grown in Michigan and can often be found in farmers markets and most grocery stores throughout the state. Garlic enthusiasts can also grow their own at home.

Garlic is typically purchased by the bulb, which is a white bundle averaging 2” in height and diameter and is made up of numerous cloves packed tightly together. It can also be found in minced form and as a salt, paste or powder. A recipe typically calls for one to two of the individual cloves, not the whole bulb. Choose garlic bulbs that are tightly packed together, that are firm and without punctures. Store the bulb in a cool dark place for up to a month. When the bulb starts to shrivel and dry out, the cloves will become rubbery and more difficult to chop.

Garlic packs a powerful, pungent flavor. It is spicy and strong when raw but has an underlying sweetness that is brought out in cooking. Garlic is related to onions and leeks which all contain sulfur compounds. These give the garlic its many heart healthy benefits as well as pungent smell. It is available year-round, though its season in Michigan is usually mid-July through mid-August. The dried and powdered forms of garlic are not nearly as pungent in aroma or flavor as fresh garlic.

Garlic is well known for heart benefits in controlling blood pressure and protecting blood vessels from inflammation and oxidative stress. Most of the nutritive benefits of garlic are found in raw garlic and can be partially retained by adding chopped garlic toward the end of cooking to retain as much flavor and nutrients as possible.

The individual cloves are encased in white paper-thin layers that must be peeled away. The easiest way to get to the flesh of the garlic is to pull one of the cloves from the bulb of garlic and lay it on a steady counter or cutting board. Then lay the flat surface of a knife, the bottom of a cup or a rolling pin down on top of the garlic clove and push down hard to smash the garlic. The inedible outer peel will split off of the clove, but usually remain in one large piece to be easily discarded. Chop, dice or slice the garlic to your preferred size and add to soups, casseroles, sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes.

Michigan State University Extension provides more fruit and vegetable information like this through the Michigan Fresh website fact sheets.

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