Flavor Investigator: Garlic

Humans have been fascinated with garlic for centuries.  This fascination likely stems from the belief that garlic possesses antimicrobial properties and health benefits. Historically garlic has been used to treat arthritis, asthma, freckles and baldness but many of these claims have been disproved. Current research suggests that garlic aids in reducing the risk of cancer and lowers blood cholesterol, a big feat from a smelly bulb. Garlic (Allium sativum L. Fam. Lilcaeae) is a relative to other ‘aromatic’ bulbs like onions, leeks and chives. Furthermore, it has a rich history rooted in many cultures. For example, garlic was used as a currency in Ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures.  Garlic juice combined with water was even used during World War II as an agent to disinfect wounds. In the flavor world, garlic is a foundational pillar because a little goes a long way. Overall, garlic has a flavour profile of animalic, onion, herbaceous, pungent with slight sulfurous notes.

Flavour Compounds in Garlic

Scientists have isolated various flavor components from garlic. The compounds isolated include allyl alcohol, diallyl disulfide, methyl allyl disulfide, and methyl allyl trisulfide.   Allyl alcohol is a metabolic product that accumulates after the trituration of garlic cloves. In other words, it produced when garlic is ground using robust methods like a pestle and mortar. Allyl alcohol produces a pungent and mustard flavour. Another flavor contributor in garlic is diallyl disulfide (DADS), an organosulfur compound. Organosulfur compounds contain sulfur and are associateed with pungent odours.  DADS is not just found in garlic but other allium relatives too such as onions and chives. Overall, this compound tastes sharp with a garlic flavor.

Methyl allyl disulfide is another organosulfur compound which contains an allyl and sulfide functional group. This chemical is described as smelling alliaceous, garlic and green onion like (alliaceous is a smell that resembles onion, garlic or similar plants).  Finally, methyl allyl trisulfide is a compound found in onion-family vegetables and various flavouring extracts.  It provides a strong flavour at low concentrations and is described as being alliaceous, creamy, garlic and onion.

Garlic Breath

The taste of garlic is beautiful, but it comes with an unwanted side effect- ‘garlic breath.’ Garlic breath in some instances can be so strong that it can last for a day!  Garlic breath is a result of the major flavour compounds found in garlic, particularly diallyl disulfide, allyl mercaptan, allyl methyl disulfide, and allyl methyl sulfide.  Have you ever noticed that uncut garlic lacks an apparent garlic aroma? Well garlic’s aroma is only released when the mechanical damage is applied to the cloves present in garlic.

So now that we understand what causes garlic breath how do you actually stop it? Well there are few different options available.  First is to consume foods like parsley, apples and pears because these foods contain a compound known as polyphenol oxidase (POO). POO when exposed to oxygen reduces volatile compounds in garlic and therefore garlic breath.  Other potential foods you could consume are lettuce peppermint, basil, and mushroom as are also effective in removing, methyl mercaptan and allyl mercaptan.

Alternatively, you could try drinking milk because it contains a mixture of fat, protein and sugar. Milk is able to reduce the hydrophobic compounds in garlic like dially disulfide and allyl methyl disulfide. Milk’s full effect is felt when it is consumed at the same time as the ingested garlic.  For example, it is better to consume cream garlic pasta rather than then pesto.  Another garlic breath eliminator you might not be as familiar with is green tea and coffee. The two beverages both contain the poluphenolic compound chlorogenic acid, which has been found to deodorize garlic-derived sulfur compounds on human breath


Mirondo, R., & Barringer, S. (2016). Deodorization of Garlic Breath by Foods, and the Role of Polyphenol Oxidase and Phenolic Compounds. Journal of Food Science, 81(10). doi:10.1111/1750-3841.13439

Morbidoni, L., Arterburn, J. M., Young, V., Mullins, D., Mulrow, C., & Lawrence, V. (2001). Garlic. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 1(1), 63-83. doi:10.1080/j157v01n01_06

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Brodnitz, M. H., Pascale, J. V., & Derslice, L. V. (1971). Flavor components of garlic extract. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 19(2), 273-275. doi:10.1021/jf60174a007

Liu, E. (2015, July 07). Garlic. Retrieved January 08, 2018, from https://scienceandfooducla.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/garlic/

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