Elephant garlic (botanical name Allium ampeloprasum) is a type of garlic having exceptionally large cloves and its flavour is tender, mild and somewhat sweet. Some people enjoy this variety of garlic as it can be consumed raw as well as used in cookery for an allusion of garlic flavour that is not overwhelming. On the other hand, some people have objections in calling elephant garlic a variety of garlic because it is very weak to be considered real garlic. Many grocers actually keep a stock of elephant garlic during its season. Most importantly, it is quite easy to grow elephant garlic at home.
Elephant garlic has a relation with the onion genus, as its flavour and taste is also mild like onions. In fact, elephant garlic is not "real" garlic since it is a member of the garden leek species. The bulb of elephant garlic develops into a number of cloves and they have some other features that are similar to the garden leek. This is a large-sized vegetable which easily blends in several recipes both in its raw as well as blanched forms.
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As mentioned above, elephant garlic is a relative of three different types of vegetables - leeks, onions and garlic. Its features are very similar to those of leeks and garlic. Similar to leeks, elephant garlic also has flat leaves and a tall stalk.
Elephant garlic is also known as French garlic and Giant garlic. In fact, this vegetable gets its name from its appearance, which is a giant size of the common garlic. However, different from the true garlic varieties, which people harvest both when they are young and mature and are used for their flowers and scapes, elephant garlic is just used for the plant’s mature bulbs. In the first year of its growth, elephant garlic produces only one large clove, which is called ‘Single Clove Elephant garlic’. However, from the second year of its growth, elephant garlic produces several cloves.
Though the vegetable is called elephant garlic and looks distinctly like garlic, basically it is a leek. In fact, garlic is also a member of the leek family. On the other hand, different from leeks, cultivators have bred elephant garlic to produce very large sized edible cloves underground. The focus of these cultivators was not so much on the green parts of the plant. If the elephant garlic is allowed to mature fully, it can produce extremely large cloves.
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It is interesting to note that the large size of the elephant garlic cloves sometimes confuses the consumers to believe that they will be more flavourful. On the other hand, the flavour of elephant garlic cloves is quite delicate as well as complex. At the same time, its flavour is very mild and does not overwhelm like the true garlic. Nevertheless, the mild flavour of elephant garlic can be utilized to your advantage, because garlic is wonderful in its raw form and can be used easily in a variety of foods. In addition, unlike the true garlic, you can add elephant garlic in foods in the last minute of cooking to get a hint of garlic. However, you need to exercise care when using elephant garlic in your food because it may be bitter if it is cooker for a long time.
If you are buying elephant garlic from any store, you need to look for the vegetable that is firm and evenly textured, but does not have any soft spots or brown areas. In addition, the outer layers of the elephant garlic needs to have a white papery skin, should be fine and the skin should not be moldy or moist. If the vegetable has soft and brown areas, it means that the head of the elephant garlic may not be very good. Hence, you should avoid purchasing this kind of elephant garlic. You also need to bear in mind that the shelf life of elephant garlic is very short compared to true garlic or other types of garlic - for instance the pungent American garlic. Therefore, it is important that you store elephant garlic in refrigeration and also needs to be used timely - before it becomes unusable.
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Growing elephant garlic is quite easy. If you want to grow this vegetable, you need to separate the bulbs of elephant garlic during the fall months. Often, garden supply stores also sell elephant garlic cloves particularly meant for planting. However, you can also use the garlic purchased from the market for planting purpose. The cloves over winter during the fall months and subsequently produce little shoots at the onset of spring. Usually, the heads of garlic mature between the middle to late summer.
It is worth mentioning here that elephant garlic bulbs are a wonderful source of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. Like the common garlic, elephant garlic cloves also enclose a beneficial chemical compound known as allicin. Allicin is said to possess potent antibacterial properties.
Elephant garlic has several applications, both as a food and therapeutically. This vegetable can be consumed in its raw for and also used in cooking. In addition, owing to its mild flavour, elephant garlic is often treated as a vegetable as well as an herb. Elephant garlic can be used in baking, roasting and grilling as it helps to enhance the flavour of the food. Moreover, the large size of the cloves of elephant garlic makes them ideal for slicing as well as deep frying for making garlic chips. In addition, you can roast elephant garlic as a whole and use it as a spread on bread. The mild flavour of elephant garlic also makes it wonderful for using it raw in salads. When elephant garlic is chopped, crushed, pressed or pureed it releases its essential oils and its flavour becomes more assertive than when it is sliced or used as a whole.
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You can use elephant garlic in which ever application that you would otherwise use the different varieties of true garlic. However, you should know that the flavour of elephant garlic would be less pungent compared to other garlic varieties. In fact, elephant garlic goes well with poultry, pasta, potatoes, parsnips, asparagus and broccoli. Whole elephant garlic will remain well and edible for a few months provided it is stored in a refrigerator. Ideally, uncut elephant garlic should be stored in a place that is dry, cool, dark and where there is no humidity.
Interestingly, in 1941 when elephant garlic was discovered growing in the United States, many people were of the view that garlic was a food meant for people belonging to lower classes, primarily because true garlic left behind a very strong odour in the breath and skin of people who consumed the vegetable. As more and more people started consuming garlic, its popularity increased over time, especially for its flavour and therapeutic properties. This opportunity was first seized by Nicholas Gardens, a farm that grew as well as distributed elephant garlic, to market the vegetable commercially. The farm soon began to develop large bulbs of elephant garlic, which enticed consumers. The mass marketing of the vegetable as well as the large size of the bulbs of this wild leek helped to make the vegetable popular. In present times, elephant garlic is an exceptional item that is showcased in the United States.
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Consuming the cloves of elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) offers us numerous health benefits. The cloves of elephant garlic are loaded with vitamins, calcium and dietary fiber, which aid in boosting digestion and also enhance the body's immunity. In addition, these cloves enclose laxatives which help to ensure smooth bowel movements.
Similar to the normal garlic, elephant garlic also encloses a chemical compound known as allicin, which possesses noteworthy antioxidant and antibacterial properties. This chemical compound has the ability to slow down or inhibit the spread of specific forms of cancers. In addition, allicin imparts garlic its distinctive odour and is known to be among the powerhouses of garlic's nutrient profile. Elephant garlic possesses very strong antiviral and antibacterial agents, in addition to containing vitamin B, flavonoids, proteins and many essential minerals. They collectively aid in eliminating detrimental microbes that may be present in the body.
Findings of one study has shown that allicin is effective in treating minor conditions such as colds, flu, Candida yeast and even stomach viruses. Further studies have shown that allicin also aids in lowering high blood pressure, insulin and triglyceride levels in the blood. It has also been seen that allicin is effective in providing protection from colon cancer, as this chemical compound helps to shield the colon cells from the toxic consequences of chemicals that are responsible for causing cancer.