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Garlic, an important and healthy part of Spanish cooking

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

Garlic plays a very important role in religion, hygiene, medicine and gastronomy, and is also a part of more mythical beliefs, such as the idea that it protects against vampires (according to legend).

It's as old as man himself, as evidence suggests that 4,500 years before Christ, it was given to the laborers who built the pyramids in Egypt to increase their stamina. It reached Spain from Asia and, like so many other products, from here it travelled to America.

Different types of garlic

Garlic comprises a head, or rounded bulb, and is made up of several sections corresponding to 12 or 15 cloves, which are yellowish-white in color. There are several different types of garlic: white, pink, purple or wine-colored (which is the most prized), and black. Garlic has a very long shelf life: once stored in a dry, dark place, it can keep all year long.

Despite being an essential condiment and flavoring, garlic does not have a high nutritional content; however, it is a healthy food as it improves blood circulation, strengthens the body's defenses, and balances blood pressure levels. These qualities make it a pillar of the Mediterranean Diet.

It is grown throughout all of Spain, although the top-producing region is La Mancha, where it is a very popular ingredient and is included in all kinds of dishes, including stews, roasted meats and fish, soups, pickled products, etc. Simple but exquisite dishes, reflecting a long-standing tradition, to which garlic contributes its powerful aroma.

Garlic capital of the world

The town of Las Pedroñeras, in the province of Cuenca, is known as the garlic capital of the world, specifically purple garlic, which has its own Protected Geographic Indication (PGI), the only one in Spain.

From a culinary standpoint, purple garlic has more flavor, is better utilized in cooking, has a persistent aroma and can be preserved for long periods of time.

Due to abundant production, a garlic aroma permeates the life and customs of this region in lower La Mancha. Additionally, the International Garlic Fair is held here every year in early August.

One of Spain's top chefs, Manuel de la Osa, is based in Las Pedroñeras. He heads LAS REJAS restaurant, where garlic is given pride of place and is "an essential part of our cooking. Used in proper quantities, it adds delicate nuances to our dishes. Although we use it in almost all of our recipes, cold or hot garlic soup is our star dish".

The chef from Castile-La Mancha believes that the use of garlic will continue to grow worldwide in 21st century gastronomy, since it's an enormously interesting product due to its nutritional and antioxidant properties.

Manuel de la Osa was one of the first chefs in Spain to use black garlic, which comes from Japan, along with Ferran Adrià, who brought it over in 2007 following a trip there. Today, many of our leading chefs have made it a key ingredient, such as Rodrigo de la Calle, who serves winter asparagus with black garlic mayonnaise at the restaurant R. DE LA CALLE in Villa Magna Hotel in Madrid. Several chefs recently participated in the online book, Cooking with black garlic, the proceeds of which will go to the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz Foundation.

Eneko Atxa, of AZURMENDI restaurant in Vizcaya, serves char-grilled red mullet with garlic and ravioli of its interiors. SALVADOR ROJO, in Seville, includes on its menu white garlic with marinated sardine. In Galicia, at SOHO CAFÉ in La Coruña, customers can try the grilled octopus with confit potatoes and ajada (garlic sauce).

An essential flavor

 Garlic is considered an essential flavor in traditional cooking, it is the main condiment in countless stews and regional recipes, and it is held in high regard in haute cuisine sauces. It's the star of many well-known dishes, such as ajoarriero from Navarre, Aragón and the Basque Country; Castilian garlic soup, and alioli in Catalonia and Valencia.

ADDRESSES AND TELEPHONE NUMBERS

LAS REJAS. General Borrero, 49. Tel.: 967 161 089. Las Pedroñeras. Cuenca.

R. DE LA CALLE. Hotel Villa Magna. Castellana, 22. Tel.: 915 871 234. Madrid.

AZURMENDI. Barrio Legina s/n. Tel.: 944 558 866. Larrabetzu. Bizkaia.

SALVADOR ROJO. Manuel Siurot, 33. Tel.: 954 229 725. Sevilla.

SOHO CAFÉ. Enrique Mariñas s/n. Tel.: 981 285 924. A Coruña.

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11/12/2014