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Garlic: Chinese Love and Lore

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Spring Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(1) pages: 35 to 37

This aromatic flavoring has been part of the Chinese cuisine for thousands of years. It is also a part of their traditional medical practices, as well. TCM practitioners, that is Chinese traditional medical people us this common bulb now commonly believed to have some antibacterial and antiviral impact on people.

Botanically known as Allium sativum, there are many who believe garlic shows improvement in some patients with specific health problems. The Chinese have believed this for decades, even longer. It is popular in their medicinal thinking. A large number of Chinese do take it fresh, in extract form, or another way several times a day. For instance, they do so if they have a cold or show signs of the flu. Newer research studies say it also protects the liver from aflatoxin damage, is an anti-parasitic agent, etc. Thus more and more of them believe that ingesting garlic is a good thing to do.

‘Stinking rose,’ one of this bulb’s nick-names, is actually composed of more than two hundred sulphur compounds; they give it its well-known flavor, aroma, and perhaps, its medicinal properties. In very ancient history, eating garlic for one’s health was limited to curing a toothache or for easing whooping cough. That may be why it was made into a liquid, an oil or an extract. For other reasons, making it into a powder, tablet, or a capsule expanded its use.

Many folk have no problem ingesting this bulb raw, others report heartburn and/or flatulence, to say nothing of it giving them bad breath. Those who take anticoagulants need to know that garlic in any form should not be taken without the advice of their physician. It can cause allergies, contact dermatitis, lethargy, soft stools, dehydration, even death in some cases. Information about this bulb is available from the National Garlic Information Center; simply call their hotline at 1-800-garlic.

Researchers report garlic’s many compounds may be why there are some questions about its safety, its effectiveness, and/or its dosage. One among a litany of concerns could be that it causes a fever if one does consume too many cloves. Seems no one knows how many or how long one can safely ingest them.

Interest in the medicinal effects of garlic are not new. They have been recognized by the Chinese since 3000 BCE and by the Egyptians since 1500 BCE. Recent chemical and pharmacological research did gain steam after Chester Cavallito isolated its sulphur-containing compounds and named them ‘allicin;’ that was in 1944. One hundred years before, T. Wertheim wrote about using steam distillation on onions; and in 1961, Arthuri Vivtanan received the Noble Prize for his efforts on related bulbs. Current efforts support the notion that garlic needs a co-factor to impact any of its nutritional and physiological properties. Some say these include lowering blood lipid levels, reducing clotting, etc.

Before this avenue of research, garlic was hailed for everything from its aphrodisiacal abilities to treating athlete’s foot; though none reported if they meant taking a clove a day or less to keep people healthy. As this information is not definitive, many still eat one or more every day.

World history is rife from Chinese turtle bones to the Talmud with anecdotes that garlic can ward off vampires, demons, dragons, and deleterious health. Many only eat it cooked or aged; some never do so. The Chinese ingest more garlic than any other population; often more than any other food supplement. Those who do tell us they enjoy its potential. Some believe cooking with garlic does enhance the taste of their foods so maybe it also enhances their health.

There are Chinese who use garlic when someone faints from excessive heat; they crush a clove or dilute its juice with water and drip it into their nostrils. Most do recover so that seems good enough for them.

If that is adequate for you, or you have other reasons to consume this food/medicine, then do make many of the following recipes.

Kumming Goat, Garlic and Greens

1 pound goat fillet, sliced thin
2 teaspoons each, dark soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil
½ teaspoon each, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 fresh chili peppers, some hot some not
5 peeled and crushed fresh garlic cloves
½ cup fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped


1. Mix goat meat, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, and then add salt, pepper, and cornstarch and marinate this for half an hour, then drain and dry the meat with paper towels.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the vegetable oil, and stir-fry the drained dried marinated meat for two minutes before adding the chili peppers and garlic and stirring this for another minute.
3. Next, put this in a pre-heated serving bowl, sprinkle the coriander leaves on top, and serve.

Garlic Stuffed Mushrooms

20 small fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
2 teaspoons cornstarch or water chestnut flour
½ pound ground turkey or ground chicken
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and ground with the poultry
1/4 cup scallions, minced coarsely
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 chili pepper, seeded and minced
1 egg white


1 Dust the gill-side of the mushrooms with the flour, then mix all other ingredients and divide this into twenty batches and put one batch on each flour-side of each mushroom.
3. Broil the mushrooms stuffed side of the mushrooms about four inches from the heat source, for four minutes. Then serve.

Mandarin Stew

2 pounds firm skinless and boneless white-fleshed fish, cut into two-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Siracha or another hot sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium zucchini, angle-cut
2 stalks celery, angle-cut
1 large carrot, peeled and angle-cut
1 onion, cut in large wedges
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled cut in halves, then
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled, thick-sliced, then each
slice smashed
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil


1. Mix pieces of fish with the brown sugar Siracha sauce, and the vegetable oil, and et rest for ten minutes.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, and fry the fish mixture until light brown, then add all the vegetables, and stir-fry for three minutes, then remove to a bowl, and serve.

Fried Rice with Tofu

5 cups cooked rice, still hot
5 fresh Shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps coarsely diced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
½ pound firm tofu, chopped coarsely
2 eggs, beaten well, made into two omelets, and then coarsely slice them
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely minced
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and coarsely minced
5 scallions, cut in half the long way, then thinly angle sliced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup bean sprouts, tails removed and discarded


1. Dry-fry the rice with the diced mushroom pieces for two minutes, then add the oil, and fry for two more minutes, and remove to a bowl.
2. Heat half the oil, and fry half the doufu until tan, then ad the omelet strips, the rice, the garlic, and the ginger, and stir-fry for two minutes before adding the sugar, peas, and the bean sprouts and stir for two minutes, then mix with the rice mixture, return it to the bowl, and serve.

Pork Ribs and Scallops in Soup

5 dried scallops, boiled for one hour, then drained, and then cooled, and finally torn into the most thin strips possible
1 pound pork ribs cut into one-inch pieces
½ pound daikon, peeled and diced or very thinly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, then each slice smashed, and then diced
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon goji berries


1. Put pork ribs into one quart remove them and strain the liquid of all solids, then rinse the pot and return ribs and the strained liquid to the pot.
2. Add the rest of the solid ingredients but not the goji berries. Then add another quart of water, bring to the boil and boil for five minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer for another half an hour before adding the goji berries and simmering all for another ten minutes. Serve in individual pre-heated soup bowls.

Spareribs with Caramelized Ginger

3 to 4 pounds spare ribs, cut into individual one-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable oil, reserving one tablespoon to oil a serving platter
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
½ cup Ginger liqueur
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce, one dark, the other thin
1 teaspoon salt


1. Blanch spare ribs for two minutes in boiling water, the very quickly rinsed in cold water.
2. Heat oil in a soup pot and deep fry half the spare ribs until crisp, about five minutes, then drain them on paper towels and fry the second half the same amount of time, then return them to mix with the first batch and fry them all for another two to three minutes, then drain all but two tablespoons of the oil, and discard it.
3. Stir-fry the ginger and the garlic in the remaining oil, then add the liqueur, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt until it thickens and is like syrup, then add the spare ribs, toss well, and the plate them on the pre-oiled platter, and serve hot or warm, as desired.

Meatballs, Abalone, and Vegetables

12 ounces finely hand-minced pork
2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese brandy or rice wine
1 scallion, minced
5 cloves peeled garlic, minced finely
1 egg
1 heaping Tablespoon cornstarch
5 dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for half an hour, stems discarded, then slivered
½ pound Chinese cabbage, slivered
½ pound bamboo shoots, shredded
½ pound winter melon, peeled and shredded or cubed
½ pound melting mouth peas, stingy edges removed and discarded, then slivered
1 pound doufu, cut into half-inch squares (optional)
4 ounces canned abalone, sliced thin, then cut into thin strips


1. Mix ground pork, soy sauce, sugar, brandy or wine, scallion pieces, egg, and the cornstarch and make into ne-inch or smaller meatballs and refrigerate covered overnight.
2. Mix mushrooms, cabbage, bamboo shoots, and peas.
3. Add meatballs and the vegetables and the winter melon to three quarts of boiling water, and when it returns to the boil, add the abalone and turn the heat so the liquid simmers, then add the abalone and the bean curd, if using it and let everything simmer for three minutes, then serve every person a heaping ladle of the vegetable mixture, and let them serve themselves as much liquid as they wish.
NOTE: Instead of the abalone, substitute half-pound cooked shrimp, veins removed and discarded or half-pound any white fish diced in half-inch pieces instead of the cubed abalone.

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