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Allium sativum

Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand


Though it’s the bane of first-date dinners, office lunches, and vampires, no pantry is complete without a few bulbs of garlic. The aroma of cooking garlic can bring a rumble to even the fullest stomach, and well-cooked it has a mild, nutty flavour.

Garlic is a member of the vast Allium genus, and is related to the onion. The majority of garlic we buy in New Zealand supermarkets is softneck garlic, known for having papery skin and containing plenty of cloves.

If you have the choice, pick New Zealand garlic. As with almost all produce, that which is locally grown has the best flavour and texture. If in doubt, you can tell by looking at the bottom – New Zealand garlic will still have the roots attached, whereas imported (usually Chinese) garlic won’t.

Choose plump garlic bulbs with tightly packed cloves, and leave behind any that have signs of mould. Store it in a dry, dark place.

Garlic is seriously good for you; whole books have been written about its health benefits. It contains high levels of sulphur compounds, which can boost the immune system and help cardiovascular health. Research into garlic’s effect on fat cell formation is also in its early stages.



Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, and is native to Asia. It has been used as a food and medicine for thousands of years, and is even mentioned in the Bible. The ancient Egyptians used it as a food and for embalming, and placed it in tombs with Pharoahs. It was also given to the pyramid-building slaves to give them strength for their work. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used garlic to build their strength; soldiers would eat it before going to war and athletes would consume it before sporting events. To this day, garlic plays an important role in European food, especially in the Mediterranean.

In the 19th century its antibacterial properties were observed, and in World War I garlic was used as an antiseptic to prevent wounded soldiers developing gangrene.


There’s no need to be afraid of garlic if you don’t eat it in excessive amounts. It works brilliantly in sauces, stews, marinades and dressings – the only thing to be careful with is frying it. Do so slowly, as garlic burns easily and develops a bitter flavour.

To peel garlic easily, soak the cloves in warm water for a few minutes before removing the skins.

For a quick, tasty marinade for beef, mix a clove or two of chopped garlic with fresh ginger, soy sauce, honey, and a splash of tomato sauce. Add whole unpeeled cloves to your dish of roasted vegetables – the garlic will become soft, sweet and mushy.

To ward off a cold in the early stages, crushed raw garlic works really well. Swallow with water – crushing is best as it causes two separate compounds in the garlic to combine and form a new one, boosting its antiviral properties. However, not much can be done about the smell, though raw parsley is said to alleviate it.


If you’re into gardening, try planting garlic around your apple trees to repel aphids. It also is a good companion plant for roses and helps them grow.

The cause of garlic breath is not so much the garlic coating the mouth, but the fact that it is released into the bloodstream. When the blood reaches the lungs, out comes the garlic breath!

Because garlic can potentially help regulate blood sugar levels, or so it is alleged, people taking insulin shouldn’t use it as a medicine without first speaking to a doctor.

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