Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor as a seasoning or condiment. It is a fundamental component in many or most dishes of various regions, including eastern Asia, south Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, southern Europe, and parts of South and Central America. The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with the different cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. The parchment-like skin is much like the skin of an onion and is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat the cloves by dribbling olive oil (or other oil-based seasoning) over them, and roast them in an oven. Garlic may be applied to breads to create a variety of classic dishes such as garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé.
Oils are often flavored with garlic cloves. These infused oils are used to season all categories of vegetables, meats, breads and pasta. In some cuisine, the young bulbs are pickled for 3–6 weeks in a mixture of sugar, salt, and spices. In eastern Europe, the shoots are pickled and eaten as an appetizer. Immature scapes are tender and edible. They are also known as “garlic spears”, “stems”, or “tops”. Scapes generally have a milder taste than cloves. They are often used in stir frying or prepared things like asparagus. Garlic leaves are a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. The leaves are cut, cleaned, and then stir-fried with eggs, meat, or vegetables. Mixing garlic with eggs and olive oil produces aioli. Blending garlic, almond, oil, and soaked bread produces ajoblanco.
In studies garlic has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal activity. Garlic is also claimed to help prevent heart disease (including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure) and cancer. Animal studies, and some early investigational studies in humans, have suggested possible cardiovascular benefits of garlic. A Czech study found that garlic supplementation reduced accumulation of cholesterol on the vascular walls of animals. Another study had similar results, with garlic supplementation significantly reducing aortic plaque deposits of cholesterol-fed rabbits. Another study showed that supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in human patients with high blood cholesterol. The known vasodilative effect of garlic is possibly caused by catabolism of garlic-derived poly-sulfides to hydrogen sulfide in red blood cells, a reaction that is dependent on reduced thiols in or on the RBC membrane. Hydrogen sulfide is an endogenous cardioprotective vascular cell-signaling molecule.
In 2007, the BBC reported that Allium sativum may have other beneficial properties, such as preventing and fighting the common cold. This assertion has the backing of long tradition in herbal medicine, which has used garlic for hoarseness and coughs. The Cherokee also used it as an expectorant for coughs and croup. In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic’s antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II.