People have been enjoying garlic as food and medicine for a very long time. Remarkably, many of the purported health benefits of this tasty herb, first recorded thousands of years ago in Chinese, Greek, Indian, and Egyptian medical texts, are backed by modern science today.
Research shows that each pungent clove of garlic packs powerful phytochemicals, minerals and health-promoting fibers that may boost immune function, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. As an added bonus, garlic is delicious and versatile, adding sweet, savory or pungent flavors to meals, depending on how you slice, mince, press or roast it.
Whole Garlic Bulbs, Ready for Roasting
Garlic is packed with nutrients, including potassium, which may have a role in lowering blood pressure, and zinc: an important nutrient that supports healthy immune function. Garlic also contains a special fiber called inulin; a prebiotic that feeds and supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Studies show that inulin-containing foods (which also include leeks, asparagus, onions, wheat, soybeans, bananas, and Jerusalem artichokes) increase the number and variety of healthy Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in the large intestine. These health-promoting bacteria help to reduce inflammation in the gut (and consequently, throughout the body) and may also boost immune function. Reduced inflammation is thought to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
When garlic is chopped, pressed or sliced, a powerful phytochemical called allicin is formed. Scientific studies demonstrate many beneficial effects of allicin, including improved immune function, reduced cholesterol, and anti-cancer activity. It takes time for allicin to form after garlic is chopped, pressed or sliced, so to get the most out of garlic, let it sit on your cutting board for about 10 minutes before cooking. Allicin also gives garlic some of its pungent bite, and the longer chopped garlic sits, the sharper its flavor will be.
Creamy Roasted Garlic Soup
Because it can be challenging to have a social life while eating lots of raw or even cooked chopped garlic, try roasting whole bulbs of garlic instead. Roasted garlic is sweet and savory and you can enjoy eating a lot of it without any unwanted side effects. Although roasted garlic does not contain allicin (because the cloves are cooked whole and are not chopped, sliced or pressed), it does provide all of the other health-promoting nutrients, including potassium, inulin and zinc.
Use roasted garlic as a spread on bread, or in sauces, salad dressings, or even hummus, and check out the Your Healthy Kitchen recipe for roasted garlic soup. This recipe combines roasted garlic with a little lightly sautéed minced garlic; providing all of the health benefits with a milder flavor and aroma.
Creamy Roasted Garlic and Carrot Soup
Adapted from, The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16
Age-Busting Power Foods, by Rebecca Katz
Makes about 4 cups (about 1½ cups per serving)
4 small heads of garlic
2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup diced white onion or leeks
1–2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 cup finely diced Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or
¼ teaspoon dried
Freshly ground black pepper
3¼ cups vegetable or chicken broth, low or no sodium, or homemade
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic and discard. Place the heads of garlic in a small baking dish. Drizzle each head of garlic with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Add enough water to the baking dish to just barely cover the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish and bake for 45–50 minutes, until the garlic is tender and takes on a rich caramel color. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the minced garlic, potatoes, carrots, thyme, pepper and ¼ teaspoon of salt and sauté for 5 minutes.
Pour ¾ cup of broth into the pan, stirring to loosen the bits stuck to the bottom. Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are tender and the pan is almost dry. Remove from the heat.
Squeeze the garlic cloves from the roasted bulbs. Pour the remaining broth into a blender. Add the garlic cloves and the cooked potato/carrot mixture and blend until smooth. Return to the pot and simmer. Adjust flavors with a pinch of salt or pepper and a spritz of lemon juice.
Nutrition Information (per 1½ cup serving)
Protein 4 g
Carbohydrate 30 g
Fiber 5 g
Fat 11 g
Sodium 343 mg
Cost per serving: Approximately $1.50
For more delicious and nutritious recipes, plus dozens of healthy cooking videos, check out Your Healthy Kitchen at YRMCHealthConnect.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, at YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen, where Rita Carey Rubin, MS, RD, CDE, posts photos and quick videos of meals she prepares in her home kitchen. There also are links to food-related community events, nutrition-related videos, and recipes from Rita’s favorite food blogs.