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Ask a Foodie: Is Garlic an Old- or New-World Food?

Garlic, appreciated since ancient times for its flavor and health properties.

Q. Recently, I picked up a head of garlic at Central Market, a special variety that was selling for nearly $30 a pound. (But one head cost less than $4.) I know there are many varieties of garlic, but was garlic one of the foods discovered in the New World, like corn and chocolate?

A.  No, garlic is a very Old-World food. Now popular throughout the world, garlic is believed to have come from southeastern Siberia, then to have spread to the Mediterranean countries, where it took hold. “There is a firm belief that it was grown in India, China and Egypt before recorded history,” writes Ian Hemphill in “The Spice and Herb Bible.” Louis Pasteur wrote about its anti-bacterial properties in the mid-1800s.

This hardy perennial belongs to the same genus as onions (Allium), which also includes chives, leeks and shallots. Specialty growers are discovering some of the many cultivated sub-varieties of garlic of which there are reported to be around 600. The garlic you purchased is no doubt being grown by a garlic enthusiast who is exploring some of these different varieties. A great website for those of us who love garlic and want to learn more about it is Gourmet Garlic Gardens.

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