You enjoy cooking and eating healthy. As such, you are constantly shopping for vegetables and fruits. With the number of times you handle them, you are confident that you’d ace it if you participated in a blind smell test.
But even with this confidence, you aren’t quite sure, is garlic a vegetable, herb, or spice? Now, before you beat yourself up, we should point out that many people are confused by the identity of some vegetables and fruits.
Take watermelon as an example. Is it a vegetable or a fruit? What about pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes? The confusion in the identity of these plants stems from the fact that they are both.
When identifying garlic, we consider botany and use. So like with watermelons and tomatoes, the answer to whether garlic is a spice, herb, or vegetable isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Luckily, it’s not rocket science. Let’s break it down to clear the confusion.
Is Garlic a Vegetable?
Yes, it is.
Strictly speaking, garlic is a root vegetable under the onion family (Allium sativum).
A vegetable is a herbaceous plant with any edible part. The edible part could be the roots, flowers, stalks, or leaves.
Garlic has a stalk, roots and is a flowering plant. Since you can eat the roots and the stalk, it qualifies as a vegetable. But unlike most vegetables, garlic isn’t cooked and eaten alone.
Is Garlic a Spice?
According to linguists, spice is an aromatic vegetable, including nutmeg and pepper, to flavor and season foods. As a vegetable, garlic can be powdered, dried, and stored for extended periods. It can also be used to flavor different cuisines to your liking. Because of this, garlic qualifies as a spice.
Is Garlic a Herb?
Yes, and no.
A herb is a plant or a part of a plant valued for its savory, aromatic and medicinal qualities.
Note: herbs are often obtained from leaves, while spices are obtained from seeds, bark, and roots of plants.
While garlic has medicinal benefits for those who use it regularly, it’s a root vegetable. This disqualifies it from being a herb.
What is Garlic?
The garlic part used in cooking isn’t the fruit but the root. Garlic roots are called bulbs, and the stalks are called scapes. Though the scapes are edible, they aren’t as flavorful as the garlic bulb. But if you fancy the slightly bitter taste, then they are great.
Garlic plants flower at the stalk tips.
The portion of the garlic plant above ground isn’t the stem but the leaves. The true stem is underground, which buds during winter, expand into leaves which finally grow into garlic cloves.
The garlic bulb is protected with white paper (almost translucent), which is inedible. The bulb contains between 10 and 20 cloves depending on the type of garlic panted. Aside from the protective bulb covering, the individual sections called cloves have thin inedible papery skin.
Fresh garlic has a pale yellowish flesh color and is pungent when consumed raw. When cooking, you can mince the cloves into a paste or chop them into tiny bits. As garlic powder, cloves are a convenient spice.
Garlic is rich in nutrients, including Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Potassium, Thiamine, Manganese, Phosphorus, Calcium, and Copper. Moreover, garlic has minimal calories, which makes it a great option for incorporating flavor fast.
Garlic’s Binomial Name
According to plant classification, garlic is known as Allium sativum. Therefore, it falls under the onion family. Other plants in this genus include shallots, leeks, and chives.
While we classify it as a root vegetable, garlic is rarely used like other vegetables are used in cooking. Instead, it’s used more like a herb or a spice since it’s rich in its signature pungent flavor.
We bet you didn’t know this. There are two types of garlic:
• Softneck garlic
• Hardneck garlic
They each have their pros and cons, as we’ll outline below.
Hard Neck Garlic
Hard neck garlic gets its name from its hard central stem running through the center of the bulb. Hardneck garlic is easier to peel and does well in colder climates. Moreover, it’s in hard neck garlic that you’ll find edible scapes and stalks. Garlic under this category include:
• Rocambole garlic
• Porcelain garlic
• Purple stripe garlic
Unfortunately, hard neck garlic doesn’t last as long as softneck garlic. Usually, they start to shrivel at the 4th or 6th-month mark regardless of how well you store them.
OTheyaren’t hard to grow and are richer in flavor than soft neck garlic. on the bright side So while soft neck garlic isn’t common in grocery stores, they are preferred by food connoisseurs.
Soft Neck Garlic
Soft neck garlic is popular often grown in warm climates. Some garlic under this category include:
• Creole garlic
• Silverskin garlic
• Artichoke garlic
Soft neck garlic lasts between 9 and 12 months with proper storage. Because of the long shelf life, it’s perfect for making garlic powder.
Garlic Benefits: Nutrition and Health Benefits
Aside from making food taste better, garlic has other benefits. For example, garlic has been used for eons to treat diseases and illnesses.
Garlic’s Nutritional Value
A clove of raw garlic is roughly 3 grams and contains:
• 0.2g of proteins
• 4.5 g calories
• 1g carbohydrates
• 0.5 mg sodium
• 0.1 g fiber
• 0.9 mg Vitamin C
• 0.04 mcg Zinc
It also contains vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B1, iron, and copper. It doesn’t contain fats, and sugars which is a plus.
Courtesy of the nutrients and bioactive compounds like saponins, sulfides, and phenolic it contains, garlic has the following nutritional value:
- May help in weight loss
Garlic supports healthy eating and weight loss. Since it’s flavor-rich, a small amount adds a savory flavor to food without adding significant calories or fat. In some instances, garlic can also replace salt if you try to reduce your sodium intake but still want to retain flavor in food.
- May reduce inflammation
Studies show that garlic has anti-inflammatory effects. In a double-blind and random clinical trial, garlic was found to reduce inflammatory cytokines significantly. However, the study used garlic extract, so it may not experience a similar effect at the same level through normal consumption.
- Lower blood lipids
Garlic might lower serum cholesterol levels which is great news for diabetic patients.
- It can protect the body from oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress caused by free radicals can be counteracted by consuming foods high in antioxidants. For example, garlic has phenolic compounds, which are great antioxidants. Even better, garlic is shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases in obese patients by increasing antioxidants and reducing inflammation.
- Has antifungal and antibacterial properties
Garlic has been used to fight bacteria and viruses for a long time. In fact, it’s called ‘Russian penicillin,’ a name that points to its antibacterial properties courtesy of allicin. Also, some skin conditions, including insect bites, warts, and more, can respond to crushed raw garlic or garlic oil.
Growing Garlic from Cloves
If you are interested in farming garlic, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a plant that needs little maintenance. However, it takes a long time to mature, and you have to get the planting season and process right from the start.
Though there are numerous methods to propagate and grow garlic, using cloves is the best and easiest method. Before planting the cloves, you need to dry the bulb and crush it slightly to expose the cloves.
As you do this, make sure to leave most of the papery skin on the bulb to protect the cloves from the cold and moisture in winter. After planting, don’t expect to see any progress for a while. Depending on the type of garlic you plant, you’ll harvest after 8 or 9 months.
You’ll know your garlic is ready for harvest when:
• The garlic plant leaves turn brown and dry. If you wait for every leave to dry, it might be too late. Also, if you harvest too early, the heads might split open and become unusable as they’ll be damaged or infected.
• The number of leaves reduces. When only a few leaves have survived the drying process, your garlic is ready for harvesting.
• The growing time will also give you an idea o when you should harvest. As we’ve pointed out, it takes about 8-9 months for garlic to mature. TraSo trackis time to know when they are ready for harvest.
You don’t want to harvest garlic too early because you’ll end up with very small cloves.
Common Mistakes People Make When Cooking with Garlic
Now that you know how and why garlic is identified as a vegetable, herb, and spice, and are aware of the nutritional benefits they carry, let’s look at some common mistakes to avoid when cooking garlic.
- Buying pre-minced garlic
If you want to use garlic, it’s best if you buy garlic bulbs. Getting pre-minced garlic packaged with olive oil in jars will steer your cooking wrong. Yes, garlic isn’t the most exciting vegetable to peel and chop. However, the hassle involved in peeling and chopping fresh garlic is worth it.
For one, fresh garlic contains high levels of allicin, a compound that helps prevent bacterial infections and blood clots. So if you are eating pre-minced garlic, you are missing out on a lot of benefits garlic is famous for.
- Buying the wrong garlic
If you buy fresh garlic, make sure it’s fresh. It doesn’t help if you stay away from pre-minced garlic only to buy rotten garlic later. When you buy your garlic contributes a lot to whether you get fresh or rotten garlic.
Generally, you are almost guaranteed fresh garlic between mid-summer and early fall. However, outside this time means you are buying garlic from storage. So while garlic has a long shelf life, because it was in storage for some time before you bought it, it means you cannot store it for as long as we stated.
How do you know you have fresh garlic? Easy, give the bulb a light squeeze. If none of the cloves are too soft or dry, you are good. Also, try and stay away from bulbs with sprouts already forming.
- Storing it wrong
Storing garlic in the wrong place is probably one of the most common mistakes people make. But, unfortunately, it’s a process that we cannot avoid. Proper storage affects the flavor, medicinal properties, and overall health effects.
New-season or green garlic is milder and easier to digest. In addition, some people claim green garlic packs more flavor in garlic recipes than dry garlic. While all these perks are great, fresh garlic needs immediate refrigeration. Moreover, it would help if you used it within a week.
On the other hand, dried garlic, the type you buy from grocery stores, needs to be stored in a dark, dry, and cool spot with a lot of circulation. You can store it in a mesh bag or a paper provided there’s a lot of dry air around it to prevent sprouting. With proper storage, dried garlic can last long. However, this reduces the moment you crack the bulb.
If you make minced garlic, store it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. But even with minced garlic, you’ll have to use it fast. DonAlso, don’t tempted to freeze the garlic since it’ll lose its texture and flavor.
- Peeling it wrong.
Peeling garlic isn’t a fun process because it’s sticky, fiddly, and takes a long time. But you don’t have to subject yourself to this peeling nightmare when you can employ the peeling tips we outline below.
First, place the garlic clove on a chopping board, place the knife’s flat side against it, and apply pressure. This will crush the garlic and loosen the skin allowing you to get peeled cloves with minimal effort.
Alternatively, you can pull the cloves apart and lock them in a mason jar. Shake the jar as hard as possible for 20 seconds. After this, the cloves will have peeled themselves. Empty the jar and separate the skin and cloves.
- Inconsistent chopping
Chopping garlic isn’t difficult, especially if you are experienced in cooking. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make errors.
First, speed is great since dawdling when you chop could oxidize the garlic resulting in a bitter taste. Also, the slices from your cloves should be equally sized. Finally, keep the slices consistent in length and thickness. This way, you’ll be less likely to burn some slices when cooking.
- Using a garlic press
It’s tempting to get a garlic press. After all, what could go wrong with such a handy tool that crushes garlic easily? Unfortunately, a lot could go wrong.
One of the main problems of using a garlic press is that it turns garlic into mush, affecting texture. Cutting garlic is also better because it delivers a mellow flavor, whereas mush garlic delivers an intense and aggressive. Also, mush garlic burns easily. While this makes it great for co-cook sauces, it’s not so good in other cooking.
What is the Classification of Garlic?
The scientific name of garlic is Allium sativum. Being in the Allium family makes it a close relative of leeks, shallots, and onions.
Can You Grow Garlic Indoors?
Although this isn’t the conventional method, it’s possible to grow garlic indoors. However, you’ll need a pot and a potting mix that drains well enough and offers garlic the required nutrients. You can use cloves or seeds to grow garlic. Most people plant garlic indoors so that they harvest scrapes when the time is right.
As you grow garlic indoors, remember to keep it away from a spot that receives full sunlight. Also, be keen on how often you water garlic. If you water it too often, it’ll die, and if the intervals are widely spaced, then they’ll die.
When Should I Grow Garlic?
The best time to grow garlic is mid-autumn if you live in warm areas. Yes, the timings are a little different from what you’d expect from other vegetables that are also summer plants. PlaHowever, planting mid-autumn allows cloves to develop strong roots before winter comes.
In the US, autumn is between September and November. December to February are winter months. In winter, garlic is dormant and gathers nutrients as it awaits summer. The root stem doesn’t develop until summer comes.
This is because the ground is frozen, and the plant might die. Garlic plants use a unique mechanism to tell when it’s spring and the perfect time to sprout.
Summer months are between June and August. At this time, garlic cloves grow above the soil, provided the roots have developed well.
Is It Safe to Eat Raw Garlic?
Yes, it’s safe whether cooked or eaten raw. However, if you have asthma or allergies, eating raw garlic might cause problems. Moreover, after eating garlic raw, you’ll get a bad odor. And if you consume too much of it, you’ll experience diarrhea.
Is Onion a Fruit or Vegetable?
An onion is a vegetable. Fruits have seeds inside, which onions don’t. Instead, onion plants produce seeds from the flowers. Most people mistakenly identify onion bulbs as fruits because you can grow new onion plants from a bulb.
Does Garlic Count as One of Your Five a Day?
Because it’s often consumed in small amounts, it doesn’t count. Luckily, you only need to consume a small amount of garlic to obtain its benefits.
What is Wild Garlic?
Wild garlic, also known as crow garlic, is a bulbous and perennial plant that grows wild in damp regions. It can be used in the same way as leeks and green garlic. However, it would help if you were cautious not to pick other plants that it’s’ almost identical to.
Garlic Grows Underground?
Did you know that garlic is an underground plant? Its bulbs contain individual cloves, each one nestled with its own root system and needing to be planted at least two inches into the soil for it to flourish. Then, from this sturdy base of cloves emerges a stalk, leaves, and flowers growing above ground!
Does Garlic Contain Sulfur Compounds?
With its signature spicy flavor and pungent smell, garlic is a powerhouse of sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin. Not only does this contribute to its delicious taste, but also to the many health benefits it offers when enjoyed on a daily basis. To make sure you get the most out of your garlic consumption, make sure that you crush or chop raw cloves in order to release beneficial allicin!