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Garlic's Goodness Best Released With a Crush

By Linda Tokarz
September 18, 2007

Consuming large amounts of raw garlic may be good for your heart, but not necessarily your social life. So, how do we best enjoy these pungent little bulbs, without missing out on their impressive health benefits?

Crush them. Then bake them slightly. That's according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and collaborators in Argentina.

Researchers have known for some time that garlic--like its close relative, the onion--is a rich source of heart-protective compounds called thiosulfinates. These sulfur compounds, best known for causing eyes to water, may lower blood pressure and break up potentially harmful clusters of platelets in the bloodstream.

But, up to now, most researchers and nutritionists assumed that the best way to seize on garlic's cardiovascular benefits was to eat the small bulbs in their most unfettered form: in the raw.

Not so, discovered ARS plant geneticist Philipp Simon and his colleagues Pablo Cavagnaro, Alejandra Camargo and Claudio Galmarini, whose findings appear in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Simon works in the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis. Cavagnaro, Camargo and Galmarini work at the INTA La Consulta in Argentina.

Since most people worldwide sauté or bake their garlic before eating it, the researchers wanted to know if cooking reduced garlic's blood-thinning effects. They also wanted to see what impact crushing the garlic before cooking had on its ability to bust up artery-clogging platelets.

After boiling, baking and microwaving both crushed and uncrushed cloves of garlic and evaluating them for their antiplatelet activity, the scientists learned that lightly cooked, crushed garlic provides most of the health benefits found in raw garlic. The only exception was microwaving, which stripped garlic almost entirely of its blood-thinning effects.

The researchers contend that while heating might be generally blamed for reducing garlic's antiplatelet activity, it's the crushing that enables the beneficial compounds to be freed in the first place.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.