Garlic has become a kitchen staple in North American cuisine, and it’s not just for its distinct, complimentary flavour.
The veggie has always been lauded for its antimicrobial and antioxidant activity, in addition to its ability to boost immunities and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.
So what makes raw garlic so appealing?
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Allicin, one of the primary phytochemicals found in garlic, is extremely biologically active. Garlic contains other substances too, which are even being studied and analyzed for their anti-cancer properties; substances include allixin, allyl sulfides, quercetin and organosulfur compounds.
Fresh herbs and spices tend to contain greater antioxidant contents, compared to dried or processed foods, and garlic is no exception – its fresh form is 1.5 times more potent than dry garlic powder.
When fresh garlic is crushed or chopped, it activates the alliinase enzyme, producing allicin from alliin. Alliin is the coveted ingredient here, and why fresh garlic is fantastic for your health: the process of forming allicin, which leads to alliin, only begins after a clove has been crushed. So to maximize the health benefits of your garlic, crush or chop it, then let it sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking with it.
Having said that, several studies suggest the functional components of garlic can be greatly hampered, or lost completely, when heated. This is again enzyme-related – heating suppresses the alliinase enzyme.
One study specifically showed that just 60 seconds of microwave heating, or 45 minutes toasting in the oven, could diminish garlic’s powerful antioxidant activity. But, allowing that garlic to stand 10 minutes before adding heat did leave the garlic with some functional activity in terms of enzymes.
The Bottom Line: To garner the most benefits of garlic, try shaving raw cloves into salad dressings, or adding it towards the very end of whatever you may be cooking.