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Garlic is related to the lily family, which includes onions, shallots, chives and leaks.
Dating back over 6,000 years, it is native to Central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was believed to be used as food flavoring and seasoning. Garlic was being used in Egypt by 3,000 B.C. Later it was used in Pakistan and Western India and spread to China. The Spanish, Portuguese and French introduced it to the New World. Today, garlic is grown all over the world.
Egyptians worshiped garlic and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen. The Egyptians fed garlic to slaves, who were building the pyramids, to increase their stamina. Ancient Greeks and Romans claimed that garlic was used to repel scorpions, treat bladder infections and dog bites, cure leprosy and asthma. It was thought that hanging garlic bulbs on doors would stop the spread of smallpox.Garlic was so highly-prized, it was even used as currency. Folklore holds that garlic repelled vampires, protected against the Evil Eye, and warded off jealous nymphs said to terrorize pregnant women and engaged maidens.
Ancient Indians valued the medicinal properties of garlic and thought it to be an aphrodisiac. It was believed to cure several illnesses and promote a long life. During World War II, garlic was used as an antiseptic to disinfect open wounds and prevent gangrene.
Surprisingly, garlic was frowned upon by foodie snobs in the United States until the first quarter of the twentieth century, being found almost exclusively in ethnic dishes in working-class neighborhoods. But, by 1940, America had embraced garlic, finally recognizing its value as not only a minor seasoning, but as a major ingredient in recipes.
Quaint diner slang of the 1920's referred to garlic as Bronx vanilla, halitosis, and Italian perfume. Today, Americans alone consume more than 250 million pounds of garlic annually.
How do you use garlic, in what dishes? Please share your favorite recipes.