Minced fresh garlic cloves make a potent seasoning that add a unique flavor to meals and side dishes. To fully understand and get the most from fresh garlic there are a couple of important things you need to know.
Garlic’s popularity has been growing in recent years. Research has shown that garlic intake may be beneficial for the heart, brain, and immune system and may lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
There Are Many Active Compounds in Garlic Cloves
The compound that often gets credit for providing the health benefits associated with garlic is called allicin. Allicin is not found in whole garlic cloves. It is formed only when cloves are cut, crushed, or minced. Breaking down the tissue of a garlic clove allows other compounds and enzymes that are separated in the intact clove to mix together and begin the reaction to form allicin.
Allicin is one of many organosulfur compounds that have been identified in raw garlic. It has been shown to break down into other compounds after formation. Studies do not find measurable levels of allicin in our blood after we eat garlic, suggesting that these other sulfur containing compounds must be responsible for the reported health benefits.
How Long Does It Take Allicin to Form?
The answer to this question is more complex than one would think. A quick Google search will yield pages of results telling you to wait 10 minutes for allicin to fully form before cooking garlic. The enzyme that forms allicin (think of enzymes like the key that starts your car) breaks down when exposed to heat. If you wait 10 minutes after chopping a garlic clove that reaction has time to complete and all possible allicin has been created. This is commonly referred to as the 10 minute rule. But is that rule really accurate?
The origin of this rule seems to be a 2001 study. Fully reading that study was very informative. Researchers found that garlic cloves that were crushed then left alone for 10 minutes before heating in a microwave had higher anticancer properties than garlic crushed and microwaved immediately. It is important to note that even after 10 minutes the anticancer effects were still reduced compared to raw, unheated and crushed garlic left alone for the same amount of time. It seems this one study led to the creation of the 10 minute rule.
This is a great example of group think at work. Everyone just references the same study, and eventually just each other when citing this rule. I’ll admit I fell victim to it as well, I have been telling patients about the 10 minute rule for many years. But the study does not really say it takes 10 minutes for allicin to form, just that the anti-cancer properties of garlic are elevated in crushed garlic that sits for 10 minutes before being heated.
How Do You Get the Full Health Benefits of Garlic?
A more recent analysis, published in late 2019, gives us some clues. Researchers chopped up raw garlic, let it sit, then ran several experiments and analyzed the compounds present at varying time intervals. What they found was that after 30 minutes the level of allicin peaked and did not change when measured after that. I wish they had commented in more detail about how long it took for allicin to fully form but they did not. So we are left with a range between 10 minutes at the least and 30 minutes at the most.
What was interesting in this study was that levels of the other sulfur containing compounds did change over time. The researchers concluded that the level of these sulfur containing compounds that allicin transforms in to increase for hours after chopping raw garlic. This suggests that the longer you can let crushed raw garlic sit the better it may be for your health. Remember we just learned that allicin is not the most beneficial compound in garlic, but it is still an important consideration because of those other compounds.
To get the full health benefits from raw garlic, mince garlic cloves into a small bowl at the very beginning of your meal prep.
You could also mince one large batch every week and store that garlic in a closed container in the fridge. If you do it before a meal this should be the very first thing you do. Let the garlic sit for as long as possible while you do all of your other cooking, then add the minced garlic to your meal or side dish right at the end of cooking and heat it just enough to remove some of the potency, as cooking reduces the associated “heat” of garlic.
How to Get Rid of Garlic Breath?
If you often end up with garlic breath and your spouse avoids you like the plague for the next 24 hours, this study from 2016 found that eating a little bit of raw apple, raw lettuce, or raw mint at the same time as garlic helped reduce garlic breath later. This may save your relationship!
How Much Garlic Do You Need to Eat Each Week?
Recommendations vary but most observational studies suggest eating the equivalent of two crushed cloves of garlic at least three times per week. To eat more garlic try adding it to sauces, stews, stir fries, or steamed vegetables right at the end of cooking for 1-2 minutes.
Do Garlic Supplements Provide Health Benefits?
Remember those health benefits I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Most studies looking at the health benefits of garlic have been conducted on supplemental garlic powder or aged garlic extract. Over short time periods some supplements have shown that they may provide those reported health benefits. There is no consistency with dosage or time duration of supplementation among the studies conducted so it is hard to draw any conclusions. And very few studies looking at the consumption of raw garlic cloves. There just is not enough data to support the idea that should definitively take any supplement, at any dosage, for a given period of time.
How to Shop for Garlic
Garlic is native to Illinois and you may find wild garlic growing in your back yard. In the summertime you can find garlic at most local farmers markets in the Chicago area. When purchasing garlic look for bulbs that are firm. Avoid those with soft areas or that show evidence of sprouting. Also put back any bulbs that are frayed, have loose outer skins or brown spots.
Store garlic cloves and bulbs in a dry, dark place like the bottom of a pantry. Individually peeled cloves or extra minced garlic can be stored in airtight containers in the fridge for up to two weeks. And don’t buy garlic in a jar, just do the work and mince it yourself before meals or once per week.
How to Grow Garlic
Final tip, if you buy fresh garlic from a farmers market and you know it was grown locally you can plant individual cloves in your garden in the fall and they will grow into full bulbs for you the next spring! Just remove the papery outer wrapping and plant an individual clove 4-6 inches deep in the ground. In my experience squirrels like to dig them up, go deep enough so they cannot find them. And don’t forget about them next year! You can harvest the new cloves in June or July when the green leaves above the ground have started to turn yellow and wilt.
The Bottom Line
I recommend you aim to eat the equivalent of 1-2 raw minced garlic cloves, gently heated as suggested above up to three times per week. Mince garlic at the beginning of your meal prep, let it sit for as long as possible, 10 minutes at minimum but longer might be better, and then add to meals right at the end of cooking. At worst there is no harm associated with letting minced garlic sit longer before cooking it. Garlic cloves have been safely consumed as a part of meals for thousands of years, and we know pretty conclusively that a plant based diet is preferred for optimal health.