I realize I shouldn’t be surprised by this revelation, but I am – the history of garlic is similar to that of the history of onions.
Leaving aside for the moment that fact that my shock bespeaks of my total food obsession and commits me to a life of geekdom from here on out, I really thought that the history of garlic would be a tad more mysterious. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I had equated garlic with mana itself.
But no, it’s just another vegetable. Probably descendant from the wild garlic from Central Asia, it appears in Indian and Egyptian records as far back as 5000 years ago. The Chinese noted it around 2000 years ago, and probably used it far earlier than that. It was only about 1000 years ago when different varieties of the stuff appeared on the scene.
Much like the onion, garlic was praised for it’s purported medicinal effects. The bitterness and the odor (mostly from the sulfur compounds found within) were used to both curse and bless, with the “garlic vs. vampire” folk tale being only one of many examples.
The bulb was also associated with the poor of various cultures. Pyramid builders were given garlic as part of their rations. When threatening to abandon the partially built pyramids, their garlic rations were increased.
The French referred to garlic as ThÃ©riaque des pauvres, which translates to “Theriac of the poor”. In the Middle Ages, “theriac” was an expensive of herb when spices and other “medicinal” ingredients were used in attempts to cure many ailments. Since the poor could not afford a wide range of these herbs and spices, their medicine cabinet consisted of garlic.
Garlic’s current popularity is a recent trend. The gourmets of America and Europe looked down upon the bulb as peasant food for a considerable time. It was a vegetable to be used only by immigrants.
In my household, garlic is ever present, mostly because of my predilection for Italian food and Tara’s for Chinese.
The next few weeks here on Accidental Hedonist will be devoted to garlic, with recipes, trivia and other similar posts.