Garlic went through a period of being a fad health supplement for its allicin content. Allicin is an antioxidant to which miracles were ascribed at the time. Now that the fad is long over, maybe we can return to the subject in a more measured way, and eat some delicious food while we’re at it.
There is relatively little allicin in mature culinary garlic, since it is found mostly in the skin. But there’s a way to eat a lot of it and enjoy it: eat green garlic, which is also a culinary delight. Garlic cloves are planted in early fall, and the greens shoot up in early spring. They vary in size according to variety. They are edible at any stage, from the tiny ramp-like beginning to nearly-mature but still soft-skinned bulbs as shown above. When the stem begins to thin and wither and the leaves look distinctly un-fresh, it is maturing and should be used as bulb garlic rather than green garlic. And here’s how to get your antioxidants in full: in the green garlic stages the whole plant is edible and tasty, and the leaves, shoot, and tender skin contain most of the allicin (reference below). The leaves, stem, and skin( after the outermost layer is peeled off) all go into your sauté pan. Cut the root end off, trim the leaf tips, wash well, slice very thinly the whole length of the nascent bulb, shaft, and leaves, chop finely, and sauté in butter or olive oil with a good punch of salt until tender. Keep the heat medium to medium-low and plan to spend 15 minutes or so on the process, lowering heat as needed. It is done when it tastes rich, garlicky, mellow, and a little sweet. Do note that slicing it very thinly crosswise in the beginning is key to the shoot and leaves being pleasant to eat, since they contain strong lengthwise fiber. They can be used as the basis of any dish that includes garlic, unless the green color would be a problem, in which case just use the bulb and tender inner skin. I also like the whole sautéed plant as a vegetable side dish when it comes from the milder varieties of garlic. If I am going to eat it by itself, I slice thinly crosswise but don’t chop the slices up, so there is some textural interest in the finished dish. Also, make sure to salt to taste during cooking, not when finished, so that the salt can penetrate. This is really good next to a lovely steak.
Don’t forget that you can tuck a useful amount of green garlic into flowerbeds and at the bases of trees. Just don’t confuse it with daffodil foliage or other poisonous plants with similar long narrow leaves. If in any doubt, tear a leaf and sniff. Garlic leaves smell like garlic!
I have heard that the leaves can also be dried, powdered, and used as a seasoning, but I’ve never tried it and don’t vouch for it. I go for fresh stuff.
Here’s your reference on the allicin content:
“Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Ardabil University of Medical Sciences, Iran
Food Chemistry (Impact Factor: 3.26). 05/2010; 120(1):179-183. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.10.004
ABSTRACT The presence of allicin in green garlic plant extracts was investigated. Allicin in aqueous extracts from green garlic leaf, shoot and young bulbs were determined by HPLC. Allicin was present at highest level in extracts from whole green garlic plant at 0.48 ± 0.01 mg/mL, followed by that in shoot and leaf extracts at 0.44 ± 0.00 and 0.26 ± 0.01 mg/mL, respectively. The results obtained in this study offer green garlic as a new source of allicin, as green garlic plant is used as a favourite vegetable in many countries.”