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All’s smell that ends well

For all its stench and association with dark legends, garlic is an inextricable part of most evolved cuisines.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2007 21:06 IST

A sliver or two of garlic will keep the doctor away and for good measure everyone else. We all know the bounties that the bulb offers. It keeps your heart healthy, blood pressure down and even speeds up the healing of wounds. According to a study from the University of Alabama, it is the compound allicin that breaks down to produce that foul sulphurous smell that keeps the blood flowing easily. For such a small bulb, garlic excites inordinate passion. Cervantes in Don Quixote wrote: “Do not eat garlic or onions; for their smell will reveal that you are a peasant.” But poet Shelley said, “Young women of rank eat — you will never guess what — garlick.”

Garlic has exercised the imagination throughout history. The Egyptians believed that it could sustain you in the afterlife and hence would bury it with their dead. Closer home, it is said to have sprung from the blood of the king of the Asuras, Rahu, who was killed by Vishnu for stealing and drinking the elixir of life. The most famous legend associated with garlic, of course, is that of its effect on approaching vampires. Since few of us have been approached by a vampire, we have to rely on movies to see just how dramatic the effect is on the bloodthirsty being. The vampire, thirsty for his evening nip of blood, will be creeping towards the unsuspecting victim, nearly always a beautiful woman. As he nears, he will grimace to reveal those razor-sharp fangs and as he is about to sink them into the inviting neck, enter the saviour clutching a cross and a pod of garlic. The beast will cringe in horror, shielding himself from the power of the bulb and turn into a jelly. The aforesaid jelly then disintegrates into a thousand bats and disperses into the evil night. Indeed, even the Sanskrit name for garlic means ‘slayer of monsters.’

Yet, for all its stench and association with dark legends, it is an inextricable part of most evolved cuisines. The Italian and his garlic can never be parted and as for the French, they don’t let bad breath get in the way of their garlic-flavoured haute cuisine. Indian cuisine, barring a few schools, relies heavily on garlic. But for those of us who take the Bard’s exhortation “…eat no onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath” seriously, comes the garlic capsule. The offending oil goes straight down the hatch and no one is any wiser. If you are prone to that Indian habit of belching aloud, even this option may prove odoriferous. But if it can add years to your life, then, why, it is just what the doctor odoured. So stop being a dim bulb and chew on that.