- Scientists at Virginia Tech mapped the biological process that allows garlic bulbs to synthesize allicin — the enzyme that creates the pungent odor and flavor. The research was published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
- The discovery could allow for changes to be made to the garlic, which could be sold as strong or weak, depending on consumer preferences.
- Researchers showed the levels of allicin in garlic can be tested to allow farmers to know the potency of their crops and predict flavor prior to harvest without the need for genetic engineering. Having the ability to gauge the flavor strength of a bulb can lead to better production control and more consistent crops, scientists said.
Garlic is a beloved addition to both personal and professional kitchens, but it is also one that has been in short supply during the coronavirus pandemic, pushing up prices. Ken Christopher, the executive vice president of Christopher Ranch, which produces 40% of domestic garlic, told The Packer he expects peak prices in December and January when garlic demand is traditionally at its highest level.
Garlic was growing in popularity even before the current outbreak. Garlic volume for the last three years has been on the rise, according to data from Blue Book and Agtools Inc. While cooking at home prompted shoppers to increase how many garlic bulbs they purchased, it also is closely associated with health benefits that have made it a sought after natural remedy even before the outbreak.
Garlic has been shown to boost immunity, function as an anti-inflammatory, improve cardiovascular health and serve as an antibacterial, according to the Cleveland Clinic. With strong immunity-boosting properties, garlic finds itself ideally positioned to appeal to consumers gravitating toward functional products known to improve health.
Although bulbs of garlic are regularly purchased in bulk, there are plenty of packaged products using the herb such as savory snacks, canned soups and supplements. But as the demand increases, there is only so much garlic that can be produced and not all of it is created equal.
Manufacturers who use garlic in their products currently have to wait until the layers of a bulb are peeled back before the strength of the herb is apparent. If farmers can control production and produce more consistent crops and predictable levels of flavor, it could help companies who are looking to add the same level of punch to their products.
In addition, if researchers can find ways to create new strains of garlic, this could increase the number of applications the ingredient can be used in. Virginia Tech researchers noted one possibility could be the creation of a new strain of garlic that produces more intense flavor.
In this case, less garlic would be needed to generate the same level of flavor compared to what is used today. This could reduce the cost for garlic as an ingredient and ensure that the same amount of the herb can be used in more foods because of the robust flavor profile. Garlic that has a stronger flavor also could command a higher price in the market. This would encourage farmers who raise it to plant more of it on their farms.