Our daily garlic
I do not remember a time when garlic made the news because it became rare and expensive. Perhaps now is the first time most of us are experiencing the problem and getting daily news about it. Prices have gone up 10 times or more, and those in the food preparation business are alarmed. Self-styled chefs at home or in turo-turo cannot use enough of this kitchen mainstay because its price has hit the roof.
Is there really a shortage? Is it an artificial one, a manipulated shortage meant to benefit some sectors? Is there a problem on the ground where this important cooking ingredient is grown? Is it environmental, agricultural, cultural, economic?
Who are making a killing? If there were, I wish it were our garlic farmers who have long suffered because of the dumping of cheap imported garlic on the market. Consumers have preferred the imported kind because it is cheaper, bigger, and easier to peel. Never mind that it is not as pungent and aromatic, and therefore you need to use more of it.
Locally produced garlic, though smaller, is stronger in flavor and aroma but more expensive. You know the variety is local because the bulbs are usually bunched together, with their stems in a braid. They make for nice kitchen decor, too.
The last time I went to the grocery I chose the locally grown garlic in a braid and ignored the higher price as my way of patronizing our local produce. Would you do that if you were running a food business?
Garlic—bawang in Tagalog, ahos in Visayan (from the Spanish ajo)—is an Asian staple, a must in every Filipino kitchen. What is Filipino adobo without garlic? What is Filipino fried rice without garlic? Sinangag (Tagalog for fried rice) or kalo-kalo (Ilonggo) is now listed in restaurant menus as garlic rice.
Though used in small quantities, garlic gives a dish a distinct flavor that cannot be substituted by other spices. If garlic were addictive, we would be suffering from a withdrawal syndrome.
While trimming my overgrown garlic vine (a flowering plant that smells like garlic) the other day, I couldn’t help wondering if its leaves could perhaps be used as garlic flavoring. I thought of the garlic-laced chichiria that Filipinos love to snack on—adobo peanuts, corniks, chippies, etc. I thought of Boy Bawang, a Filipino brand of chichiria that proudly carries the bawang in its name.
Years ago I got to dine in a San Francisco restaurant named Stinking Rose, which served garlic-flavored dishes. I even tried its yummy garlic-flavored ice cream. I searched Google and found that, yes, it’s still there, and now with several branches in different places. I have yet to see a Filipino restaurant specializing in garlic dishes.
Considering that the Philippines was in the Spice Islands route during Magellan’s expedition, it’s rather strange that our food is not as heavily spiced as those of our neighbors. For the longest time garlic, ginger, onion and pepper were our only main staples. Only in the recent years, and because of global culinary explorations and expansionism, if one can call it that, did foreign-sounding spices become part of our home cooking. Now we even grow our own herbs and spices. I have a whole section in my garden.
It is good to know that the Department of Agriculture is doing something to “temper the price spike” of garlic, as an Inquirer news report said, by sending trucks loaded with garlic to key market places. The imported variety had shot up to P300 a kilo, while the local one is at P180. Good for our farmers, I should say, if this means they’d have more buyers. But the problem is that it is off season and farmers don’t have enough to sell.
Is there a way to prevent the dumping of imported cheap, flavorless garlic so that our garlic farmers will be encouraged to produce more? Is there a way to monitor middlemen who buy at very low prices and sell at scandalous prices? An agriculture official has observed that garlic prices spiked when the produce was no longer in the hands of the growers. Meaning, the traders made a killing.
Garlic (allium sativum) is not only for cooking. It has been used as a traditional cure for ailments. In the book “Medicinal Fruits and Vegetables,” authors Jaime Galvez Tan (a former health secretary) and Ma. Rebecca M. Galvez Tan cite research findings on the uses of garlic:
“The bulb contains allicin, volatile oil, sulfides, protein, fat, carbohydrates, choline and myrosinase. The leaves contain protein, fat and sulfides. Allicin has been found to inhibit a broad variety of bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Foreign researchers have reported garlic to have hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar), hypolipemic and fibrinolytic (prevents accumulation of fats in the blood vessels), diuretic (increases the amount of urine), and anticlotting properties. It also has antiobesity action.
“Garlic has been studied to be a carminative (expels intestinal worms), diaphoretic (induces excessive perspiration) and an expectorant (promotes removal of respiratory secretions). Raw garlic, however, has been shown to have mutagenic potential.
“Research shows that two cloves of garlic a day protects against H. pylori infections. Garlic has increased immunity of AIDS patients and also relieved several symptoms, according to a study (Castleman). Garlic has antitumor properties by inhibiting new vascularization. Studies show that people taking garlic are less prone to atheroscleoris (Balch).”
From the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website: “Garlic was domesticated long ago and is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Chinese writings. Garlic bulbs from about 1,500 BC were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, and garlic is mentioned in the Bible and Qur’an.”
Give us today our daily garlic.
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