“How We Remember . . . the Garlic!”
By Awake! writer in the Dominican Republic
IF YOU found yourself far away from home with an empty stomach, what food would you want to eat? The fresh fruit and vegetables grown in your native land might come to mind, or perhaps you would think of a succulent stew your mother used to make of meat or fish. But would garlic make your mouth water?
Some 3,500 years ago, as the people of Israel trekked across the wilderness of Sinai, they said: “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic!” (Numbers 11:4, 5) Yes, they longed for garlic. The Jews took such a liking to it that according to tradition, they called themselves garlic eaters.
How did the Israelites acquire a taste for garlic? During their 215-year extended stay in Egypt, that herb was part of their diet. Archaeological evidence indicates that long before Jacob and his family arrived, the Egyptians were cultivating garlic. Greek historian Herodotus reports that Egyptian authorities purchased enormous quantities of onions, radishes, and garlic to feed their pyramid-building slaves. This diet, heavy on garlic, seemed to increase the workers’ strength and stamina. When the Egyptians buried Pharaoh Tutankhamen, they left many valuable objects in his tomb, including garlic. Of course, garlic was of no use to the dead, but it has proved very useful to the living.
Doctors have long used garlic in treating their patients. Many centuries ago the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Dioscorides recommended it for digestive problems, leprosy, cancer, wounds, infections, and heart trouble. In the 19th century, French chemist Louis Pasteur studied garlic and described its antiseptic properties. In Africa during the 20th century, Albert Schweitzer, a famous missionary-doctor, used garlic to treat amoebic dysentery and other diseases. When Russian military doctors ran short of modern drugs during World War II, they used garlic to treat injured soldiers. Thus, garlic became known as Russian penicillin. More recently, scientists have studied how the circulatory system benefits from garlic.
Garlic is thus outstanding nutritionally and medicinally, and its smell and flavor are truly unique. Where was garlic first grown? Some botanists believe that it originated in central Asia, from there spreading all over the globe. Let us look at a beautiful place in the Western Hemisphere where garlic is famous.
Growing Garlic in Constanza
The Constanza Valley, in the Dominican Republic, has a temperate climate. Surrounded by mountains, the valley is blessed with rich soil and abundant rainfall. Constanza is an ideal location for growing garlic.
In September or October, the farmers of Constanza clear and plow their fields, leaving deep furrows separated by banks of earth about three feet [1 m] wide. On each of these banks, they cut three or four shallower furrows in which they will plant garlic. Meanwhile, workers separate whole garlic bulbs into individual cloves. After soaking the cloves in water for 30 minutes, the workers place them in the furrows prepared for planting. During the mild Dominican winter, the garlic grows.
In March or April, the harvest begins. Workers uproot the mature garlic plants and let them lie in the fields for five or six days. Then they collect the garlic, cut off the roots and tops, and place the clean bulbs in open containers called cribas. They leave the filled cribas in the sun for a day to cure the harvested garlic. After that, it is ready for sale.
A Little Garlic, a Lot of Smell
When you sit down to eat a tasty stew or salad, your nose quickly alerts you if the food contains garlic. Why, though, does garlic have no smell when it is intact in its bulb? Garlic contains potent chemicals that are isolated from each other until a clove is bruised, cut, or crushed. When you mince a clove of garlic, an enzyme called alliinase comes in contact with a substance called alliin. An instantaneous reaction follows, which produces allicin, the source of garlic’s aroma and taste.
When you bite a piece of fresh garlic, it is as if the allicin explodes in your mouth. Whether this brings you delight or not, the aroma of garlic will soon surround you. Can you do anything to lessen garlic odor on your breath? You may try chewing sprigs of parsley or a bit of clove—not another garlic clove but the spice known as clove—to cover the odor.
But keep in mind that garlic on your breath comes mainly from your lungs. When you eat garlic, your digestive system transfers it to your bloodstream, which takes it to your lungs. When you exhale, its pungent odor comes out on your breath. So mouthwash and parsley do not eliminate garlic breath. Is there a definitive solution to this problem? Not really. But if you have everyone around you eat garlic, then perhaps no one will notice!
In many lands food without garlic is hard to imagine. And even where garlic is normally used with caution, many garlic eaters believe that its benefits far outweigh any disadvantages.
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Harvested garlic being dried
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The Constanza Valley
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Why does garlic smell only after it is crushed?