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  • Norfolk Farms

Garlic: PUNGENT and POTENT “THE STINKING ROSE”

It is said, that a rose is a rose by any other name -but some prefer to call it, “The Stinking Rose” -garlic, that is. Well, it is pungent. And, it is potent. And, there is no mistaking it.

Garlic has probably more of a recorded history than any other food stuff, for some thousands of years. Through the annals of culinary history and folklore, garlic has been credited not only as an aphrodisiac, but also as a tonic to embolden soldiers, to ward off vampires, worms, tumors, and the common cold.


In a manner of speaking -the pyramids of Egypt were built on garlic, as were the temples of Greece. Roman legions and Napoleonic armies conquered the world, with garlic in their bellies. Even the Greek Olympians refused to compete unless garlic was taken -truly, garlic was the first ‘performance enhancing’ agent to be used in competitive sports! Hippocrates, the Greek Father-Of-Medicine, lauded and praised the ‘properties’ of garlic -an elixir without equal, perhaps even to this day.


Fast forward, garlic continues to be consumed at increasing rates -and, of course, so do breath mints. Garlic belongs to the lily family (Alliums, Alliaceae), and also includes the onion, chive, leek and shallot. Whether eaten raw, baked, or roasted, next to salt, it is the go-to spice in food flavourings. Garlic plants produce organosulfur compounds such as allicin and diallyl disulfides (DADS), which account for their pungency and spicy aroma.


Most of Canada’s production is sold fresh, and large-sized bulbs of good quality average $3 each at the market. Garlic is sold as whole fresh bulbs, green garlic (immature plants, similar to bunching onions), or scapes. Scapes are the flower stalks of the garlic plant, and begin to appear in early June. Processed products as garlic spreads, and chopped garlic, etc. are also available. Scapes when ‘pulled’ from the plant before they begin to curl, are often used as a garnish, stir-fry, or puree.


There are two types of garlic grown in Ontario; hardneck and softneck (referring to the stems). Hardneck varieties (Allium sativum var. sophioscorodon) bolt -producing a seed-stock, during late spring/early summer, and produces a tall, flower stalk known as a scape. The flower stalk does not produce a true flower, but rather numerous aerial cloves known as bulbils. They may be eaten directly or prepared, and may also be used as planting stock. Softneck varieties (Allium sativum var. sativum), do not produce a scape, and the necks being softer make them easier to braid.


And, if you feel like celebrating, because you ‘love’ garlic, April 19th is National Garlic Day. And no bigger is the festival than in Gilroy, California -the ‘Garlic Capital Of The World’. The town of Gilroy processors approximately 100 million pounds of garlic, annually! In fact, Will Rogers was once quoted as saying of the town, “it is the only place where one can marinate steak just by hanging it up outdoors.”


While garlic acreage and useage in Canada is increasing, Canada is ranked 70th worldwide in terms of production. China easily ranks number one, and supplies an impressive 80% of the global supply of garlic. The U.S. Ranks 4th behind India and the Republic of Korea, with annual plantings of between 24,000-26,000 acres with a total production of about 400 million pounds. Ontario produces about 1,000-1,500 acres of garlic with a similar amount in British Columbia. In 2021, Canadian garlic production was 1.4 million metric tons, and is estimated to be 1.6 million tonnes by 2026. On average, Canada has seen an annual growth rate of 1.6% since 1997.


Similar to home-made chicken soup, not all of the health and curative secrets/benefits are fully understood, when it comes to garlic. Unlike most herbaceous foods, garlic contains selenium. Selenium, in terms of human dietary needs, is an essential ‘trace’ element -meaning, only required in small -albeit, important amounts. However, selenium has an important role in the formation of special proteins, called antioxidant enzymes -helping in the prevention of cell damage.


Generally, garlic is planted in the fall in about mid-October, and harvested in the summer in about mid-July, and is treated as a winter annual. When fully ripe and cured, garlic bulbs can be successfully stored for several months, and even as late as February or early March under suitable conditions-cool and dry (low humidity).


There are many sources of information pertaining to the keep, care and culture of garlic, and those will be left for the reader to enjoy. However, it should be noted that the most common failure in producing garlic is planting in acid soils. It is very important to take a soil test before planting any large amount of garlic. Garlic does not ‘like’ low pH soils as garlic struggles to grow in acidic soils. In addition, for a small plant, garlic has a shallow and extensive root system, and the roots are often and inadvertently damaged with machine cultivation, thereby reducing productivity, and crop yield, accordingly.

Another common pitfall for the uninitiated, is leaving garlic in the ground too long before harvesting. This will result in the bulb ‘cracking’ as the individual cloves begin to separate. Also, the bulb becomes discoloured with a grey stain. However, if these same bulbs are intended to be used as planting stock, then colouration does not matter, and the ‘loosening’ of the cloves makes it easier to break apart the bulb in preparation for planting -it is preferable, that way.

Garlic never quite seems to go out-of-style. In fact, garlic is increasingly in-style. Garlic,’The Stinking Rose’, an elixir for all ages, down through the ages since ancient times, is here to stay. 

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