11 Things You Might Not Have Known About Garlic

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National Garlic Day may be a holiday best celebrated alone—or with a hefty box of breath mints and a very charitable loved one—but few foods are as deserving of their very own day of recognition as the amazing, edible bulbous plant (okay, “bulbous plant” might not sound super appetizing, but it’s certainly accurate). Celebrate National Garlic Day on April 19 with your favorite garlic-laced meal and a few fun facts about this delicious, flavor-packed add-in that can do almost anything, from reducing your cholesterol to keeping vampires at bay.

1. YOU CAN EAT MORE THAN JUST THE STANDARD GARLIC CLOVE.

When you think “garlic,” you inevitably picture garlic cloves, but despite the ubiquity of that particular image of the plant, it’s not the only part you can eat. Hard-neck varieties of garlic produce “scapes,” green shoots that can be especially delicious and tender when they’re young. Think of them as garlic-flavored scallions. They also make a wonderful addition to pestos, soups, and butters.

2. CHINA PRODUCES THE MOST GARLIC.

Garlic is native to central Asia and has long popped up in European and African cooking, too. But it's China that currently holds the record for most garlic grown. Per a 2012 study, China grows a staggering two-thirds of the world’s garlic, believed to be around 46 billion pounds per year.

3. AVERAGE CONSUMPTION OF GARLIC IS BELIEVED TO WEIGH IN AT AROUND TWO POUNDS PER PERSON.

Even with just two pounds, that means eating roughly 302 cloves per person per year, as each clove typically weighs about three grams.

4. GARLIC'S HEALTH BENEFITS ARE MYRIAD, INCLUDING AN ABILITY TO REDUCE CHOLESTEROL.

The best way to release the health-happy power of garlic is to cut it, which then turns garlic’s thio-sulfinite compounds into allicin, an antibiotic and antifungal that is believed to reduce “bad” cholesterol, as it inhibits enzymes from growing in liver cells.

5. ALLICIN IS ALSO GOOD AT COMBATING HEART DISEASE.

Allicin helps nitric oxide release in the blood vessels, relaxing them and thus bringing about a drop in blood pressure. Keeping blood vessels relaxed and lowering blood pressure is good for the heart and the rest of the vascular system (and it’s tasty).

6. GARLIC CONTAINS TONS OF VITAMINS, MINERALS, AND ANTIOXIDANTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR YOU, TOO.

The bulbs are packed with potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and Vitamin C.

7. GARLIC'S USE AS A HEALTH AID DATES BACK TO ANCIENT HISTORY.

It’s believed that Egyptian pharaohs plied their pyramid-builders with garlic for strength, and an ancient Egyptian medical document—the Ebers Papyrus—counts a stunning 22 different medicinal uses for the plant. Garlic also pops up in texts from Virgil, Pliny the Elder, Chaucer, and Galen, all of which detail its various uses and share lore about the magic plant.

8. DESPITE ITS ASIAN ORIGINS, ITS NAME IS DERIVED FROM ANGLO-SAXON SPEECH.

A combination of two Anglo-Saxon words—“gar” (spear) and “lac” (plant)—is believed to be the source of the plant’s name, specifically in reference to the shape of its leaves.

9. GARLIC'S REAL HEALTH BENEFITS ARE PROBABLY THE REASON FOR ONE OF ITS MOST PREVALENT MYTHS.

Garlic had long been recognized as a wonderful health aid before writer Bram Stoker introduced the concept of the vampire—a beast repelled by garlic—to the public with his 1897 novel Dracula. In the book, Van Helsing uses garlic as a protective agent, and it’s believed that Stoker lifted that idea from garlic’s many medicinal purposes, particularly as a mosquito repellent (think of the blood-sucking).

10. YOU CAN USE GARLIC TO MAKE GLUE.

The sticky juice that’s in garlic cloves is often used as an adhesive, especially for delicate projects that involve fragile items like glass. You just need to crush the cloves to get to the sticky stuff which, despite its smell, works surprisingly well as a bonding agent for smaller jobs.

11. GARLIC CAN CLEAR UP SKIN TROUBLES.

You can battle both acne and cold sores with garlic, simply by slicing cloves in half and applying them directly to the skin. Hold for a bit—as long as you can stand!—and while the smell might not be the best, the antibacterial properties of the miracle plant will speed along the healing process.

All images courtesy of iStock.

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your cousins for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer tells WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the homestyle mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]

How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie

MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images
MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images

When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

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