Emily Laurence・May 21, 2021
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In a recent poll, Well+Good Cook With Us Facebook group members shared that garlic is their favorite spice for seasoning dishes. It’s one of the most flavorful, yet versatile, pantry items around, so this isn’t entirely surprising. And not to knock the powdered version, but there’s one very good reason for cooking with the whole herb whenever possible: It’s the best way to maximize its flavor and dietary benefits because of the garlic-alliinase connection.
“When fresh garlic is chopped or cut, you activate an enzyme called alliinase,” says gastroenterologist and Fiber Fueled author Will Bulsiewicz, MD. The alliinase, he explains, converts alliin (a sulfoxide in fresh garlic) to a compound called allicin, which is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. (It’s also scientifically linked to being good for the heart.)
In addition, garlic is packed full of nutrients: B vitamins, vitamins C, E, and K, zinc, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium. Which is something Dr. Bulsiewicz recently shared on Instagram while discussing why cooking with the herb ups the nutritional content of any meal.
Quite a list, right? But opting for fresh over processed garlic isn’t the whole story here. How you cook it matters, too, according to Dr. Bulsiewicz. If you want to get the maximum benefits, you need to wait 10 minutes between chopping and using it.
That’s approximately how long it takes for alliinase to activate and convert the alliin to allicin. And it’s definitely worth the additional prep time seeing as allicin is especially beneficial for gut health because it kills bad bacteria while allowing good kind to thrive.
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of garlic:
Here’s another fun fact about cooking with garlic: Pairing it with another allium veg—onions, leeks, shallots, or scallions—enhances the bioavailability of zinc and iron. Plus, the combination tastes pretty darn delicious, too.
So, the hot take away here is that patience is certainly a virtue, and in the case of cooking with garlic, good (read: nutritionally rewarding) things do indeed come to those who wait.
Photo: Getty Images/phongsathon Uengamphon