Garlic (its botanical name is Allium Sativum) is a bulb from the allium family to which onions and chives also belong. Despite the fact that the plant also grows in the wild, people started cultivating garlic for consumption about 7,000 years ago. In fact, garlic is one of the oldest agricultural crops, a firm favourite the world over due to its culinary and medicinal properties. Garlic occurs in many different varieties, most of which grow as a garlic bulb with various segments, also known as cloves. A fully mature garlic bulb can contain as many as 20 cloves.
The garlic bulb was first used in Central Asia, but its use and cultivation soon spread throughout the whole of Asia and the Mediterranean.
Like all members of the allium family, the garlic plant stores its surplus energy in its bulb during its growth, saving nutrients for the winter. However, growers cut that process short by harvesting the bulbs between early July and early September, when the days are longest, to maximise the bulb’s energy absorption. The stored energy in the garlic bulb is revealed by garlic’s nutritional values: the high content of carbohydrates and proteins is particularly striking.
Immediately after the harvest, the garlic is left to dry briefly in the fields and then processed or stored as bulbs in refrigeration buildings. The (lengthy) storage provokes a change in the bulb’s composition. A garlic bulb is living material and the chilled storage accelerates the oxidation, particularly of the proteins, producing allyl methyl sulfide, a substance that causes the strong odour (garlic breath) after you have eaten garlic. In short, you could say: the stronger the smell of garlic on your breath, the longer the bulb has been stored and the ‘older’ it is. If garlic is consumed when fresh, or immediately after harvesting, the flavour is mild without being sharp and fresh-onion-ish. It has the added advantage that it does not cause any, or hardly any, garlic breath.