Garlic facts and history: The truth about vampires and health benefits
June 11, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
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BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 16: Bundled garlic lies on display at the International Green Week agricultural trade fair (Internationale Gruene Woche) on January 16, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The International Green Week is the world's largest agricultural trade fair and is open to the public from January 16-25. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
You hear a lot about garlic -- from its touted benefits to its role in vampire lore. Find out some facts and history of this edible bulb.
The folkloric link between vampires and garlic has to do with allicin, the major sulfur "compound that is (briefly) released when the garlic clove is cut," said Eric Block, a distinguished professor emeritus of chemistry at the University at Albany State University of New York and author of "Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. "
"The reason for the presence of sulfur compounds in garlic is to allow the garlic bulb to survive (while it's) in the ground, where it's surrounded by predators microscopic and larger," Block said.
Allicin is also the compound to which most potential health benefits attributed to garlic have been credited.
"That's been the big problem: How do you take this compound allicin, with all these wonderful properties demonstrated in (human) cells, and make it into a useful drug?" Block said.
Given these issues, you might think that people could just eat raw garlic for health benefits.
However, this isn't a good idea for several reasons: Because allicin is garlic's very potent defense, eating raw garlic "can cause severe irritation and burns," Block said.
In some areas of the Mediterranean, for example, "people will chew on garlic, and I guess they've developed a resistance to it," Block said.