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Garlic - Essential Ingredient in Spanish Food



Garlic Photo courtesy cx ed from stock.xchng #634652

What would Spanish food be without garlic?! Not as tasty, that’s what! It is definitely an essential ingredient in Spanish food – from sauces to soups and “tapas.” After a bit of basic information, read about how to choose fresh garlic at the store, as well as how to store and prepare garlic. At the end of the article, find links to Spanish recipes that use garlic.


Garlic is an old ingredient, popular around the world for many thousands of years. The use of garlic in food probably originated in the Middle East and was eaten by the Greeks and Roman soldiers. It is a very common ingredient in cuisines of the Mediterranean, Spanish cuisine included.

Garlic’s scientific name is Allium sativum and it is a relative of the onion. The part of the plant that many of us love to eat is the “bulb,” which is the part that is underground. We call it the head. Each delicious garlic head is divided into several cloves. A head of garlic is usually white and sometimes has a pink or purple hue, although some varieties are entirely purple. Typically, a head is between 2 and 4 inches wide, although there are some giant types that are quite a bit larger.

Being a relative of the onion family, it has a pungent odor and can have a spicy, almost “hot” flavor if eaten raw or if eaten in a large quantity. When cooked, its flavor is much more mellow.

How to Choose Fresh Garlic

You will find fresh garlic in the produce section of your supermarket, probably near the onions and potatoes. Garlic is sold as individual heads or sometimes several will be in a mesh bag. Like onions, garlic heads will have dry skin layered on the outside. Look for solid, firm heads. Don’t buy it if it feels light or hollow, it’s old. If it feels soft, it is probably beginning to rot. Like onions if you see a sprout, choose another head – it’s not fresh!

“Bottled” garlic?! That’s what we call the garlic that comes in a clear plastic jar and is already peeled. You can buy this type of garlic, but it is not as fresh. If you think peeling garlic is a pain, we agree! So, read the section below on preparing garlic to find out how you can avoid the whole process if you buy the right tool.

How to Store Garlic

Garlic should be stored in a cool, dry place. It should be stored away from light and heat, with air circulation. Ideally, it should be hung up in a cool, dry, dark room. Stored properly, garlic will keep several weeks.

Caution: Do not store garlic in a jar of oil at room temperature. You could end up with botulism.

Preparing Garlic

A recipe may call for a whole clove of garlic, but more often a recipe will call for minced or sliced garlic. Although you can mince garlic by hand, it is easier and quicker to use a garlic press. We recommend the type of garlic press that will press a clove or two with the peels on.

If your hands touch garlic, they will smell of garlic even after washing. So, we recommend that you rub your hands on metal, which will get rid of the smell. We rub our fingers on our metal garlic press and it works miracles!

Getting Rid of Garlic Breath

It is no secret that garlic has a pungent odor. It didn’t get the nick name “The Stinking Rose” for nothing! To give yourself fresh breath after eating lots of garlic, just eat a sprig of fresh parsley.

Garlicky Recipes

If you like garlic, try any or all of the recipes below. The one thing that they have in common is that one of the primary ingredients is garlic, or in Spanish, ajo.

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