Garlic gets some bad rap. All you need to do is mention the phrase ‘garlic breath’ and someone’s bound to sink to the floor coughing helplessly. Yet, while its reputation for creating sulfurous breath strong enough to knock a man off his horse is probably well founded, there is a lot more to garlic than simple stench.
First, we’ll cover the basics. Garlic is a bulb crop, in the same genus (allium) as leeks and onions. It grows underground and sends up green shoots. Besides being called garlic, it is also nicknamed the ‘stinking rose’. Now here’s where it gets interesting. Garlic actually contains sulfurous compound, and not only does it cause bad breath, but it actually travels through your entire body and can come out of your pores. Even chowing down on breath mints won’t hide the fact that you ate garlic because you’ll end up sweating out the scent. The worst of it, though, is that if you eat garlic often enough, you might not even notice the smell. That’s good for you, but not so good for everybody else!
However, according to a nutrition specialist from Colorado University, sweating garlic may actually act as a natural mosquito repellant. Apparently, mosquitoes can smell the carbon dioxide and lactic acid on our breath up to 40 yards away. The scent of garlic on our breath and skin may confuse these nasty pests so much that they won’t be able to find and bite their human prey. Maybe eating garlic should become a tradition before your annual camping trip.
Garlic is also a natural antibiotic. In fact, British medics used garlic as an antibiotic to treat wounded soldiers in WWII. One of the real advantages of using garlic in this way is that the bacteria in our bodies don’t develop resistance to it, so it is effective over time, unlike many antibiotic drugs.
A group of researchers led by Xiaonan Lu of Washington State University isolated a compound found in garlic called diallyl sulphide. They tested it as an antibiotic against Campylobacter bacteria. This bacteria is one of the most common causes of food-borne illness in the US and affects 2.4 million Americans every year. The researchers found that diallyl sulphide was 100 times more effective at killing the bacteria than two other common antibiotics. That’s powerful stuff!
In the end, it all comes down to whether you like garlic or not. If you can’t stand the smell, but want its health benefits, you can take garlic supplements. But if you love garlic curry, garlic potatoes and garlic pasta, there’s probably nothing that will hold you back from its culinary delights. Perhaps one day, the benefits of garlic will so outweigh the smell that the phrase ‘garlic breath’ will be taken as a high compliment, and celebrities will start their own brands of garlic perfume!