(species Allium sativum), bulbous perennial plant of the lily family (Liliaceae). The plant's bulbs are used as a flavouring. A classic ingredient in many national cuisines, garlic has a powerful, onionlike aroma and pungent taste; its wide use in the United States originated among European immigrant groups. In ancient and medieval times garlic was prized for its medicinal properties and was carried as a charm against vampires and other evils. Garlic has been around for thousands of years. While its origin is unknown, some people believe it originated in Siberia, then spread to the Mediterranean area, becoming naturalized in the process. Classical writers such as Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare mention garlic, and it was present in the diets of early Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. Garlic bulbs are used either sliced or ground to flavour tomato sauces, stews, and salad dressings in southern European and Asian cuisines.
The membranous skin of the garlic bulb encloses up to 20 edible bulblets called cloves. Flower stalks sometimes arise bearing tiny bulblets and blossoms without seeds. Garlic is propagated by planting cloves or top bulblets. Garlic is grown as an annual crop by methods similar to those used in growing onions. Garlic contains about 0.1 percent essential oil, the principal components of which are diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, and allyl propyl disulfide.
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