Food Culture, Ingredients

The Base of Food in Peru: Garlic

Whole Garlic in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza).

One of the main condiments in the repertoire of Peruvian cuisine, garlic belongs to the same family as onions and is so much more than just a condiment.

Not indigenous to Peru, garlic came with the Spanish and yet has strongly taken root withint he fertile soil of Peruvian gastronomic culture.  In Europe, Africa, and Asia its use goes back into very ancient times.  And it continues to be important throughout the world.

A head of garlic is composed of various cloves (teeth—dientes—in Spanish).  The cloves are covered with with a shell of dried skin and then a transparent and thin membrane.  Its principle characteristics are its intense flavor and aroma that give it a great value as a seasoning.  Indeed it is indispensable in cooking.

While garlic is found in many varieties all over the world, in Peru we have our own set of different kinds.  Each of them has their own characteristics.  We can mention the ajo blanco, white garlic that is the most well known and commonly used.  It s characterized by the whiteness of the shell and skin covering the cloves.  But we also have the ajo criollo, the creole garlic, the purple Barranquino garlic, the Arequipan purple, and the Napuri also known as Bellavista.

The garlics come from different places wihtin our Peru.  Som of their names are based on teh palces where they are grown.  In fact the most important places where garlic is grown in Peru are Arequipa, Lima, Cajamarca, La Libertad, Junín, and Ayacucho.

Peeled Garlic Cloves (Photo: Walter Coraza).
Peeled Garlic Cloves (Photo: Walter Coraza).

For good cultivation of garlic, the plant needs a loose soil which is well drained.  It also needs controlled irrigation since if there is ever excessive water it can cause the cloves to rot.

Garlic contains lots of minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, sulphur, and more.  In their trun these are said to have nutritional and curative value.  As we noted, garlic is very important in the initial stages of food preparation, such as for making a good base (aderezo), to make rice, and for many other things.

Garlic is more than a food, however.  It also has medicinal value.  It is said to help prevent and cure all the illnesses of the respiratory tract.  It is used to eliminate parasites.  In these latter cases garlic juice is considered one of the best remedies.  Since it has a high content of phosporous and sulphur, it stands out as a special sedative to clam the nerves.

I got to experience how well garlic can serve as a medicine.  When I was a child I developed a bronchial infection with a lot of coughing and sore throat.  My mother would give me burned garlic mixed with oil.  This served as an expectorat and was able to alleviate the damaged parts of my lungs and I was able to recover radpidly.  I was not the only one to udnergo this treatment.  My brothers and cousins also did whenever they suffered a respiratorial infection.

You can buy garlic in the markets, stores, and supermarkets, among others.  They sell it in mounds, some already put into mesh bags.  Some of the mesh bags are worth 1 /S while others are 0.50 S/, depending on the quantity you wish.

You can buy the garlic cloves whole, or already peeled and ready to go.  Of course with the additional work the price goes up. You canb also find the garlic pureed and as part of mixtures of condiments.

You can also find it already made into different priducts.  Some enterprises have decided on different presentation, with different ingredients to conserve it of course.  In this way you find garlic as part of many herb and spice packages that you can buy for easy use.

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