Today, garlic is enjoyed by billions of people worldwide. But the world hasn't always been quite so accepting of this pungent plant.
The British monarchy has survived wars, coups, pandemics and rebellions in its 1200-year history. The royal family is famous around the world as the bar-setters of etiquette and politeness at the dinner table. In the past, all food would have been grown, hunted, cooked and tasted by servants, ensuring no poisoned or imperfect food could reach the royal table. With the exception of formal banquets and dinner parties, food in the royal household is similar to that of any other British family, but with a few notable exceptions.
The Queen is known to be extremely particular about her diet; only eating in-season foods, rarely touching pasta or potatoes and generally eating the same few meals each week, cooked precisely to her taste. She, along with most other royals, avoids eating garlic and onions whenever possible1. This isn't a matter of personal taste, according to Camilla Parker Bowles, rather an act of courtesy; constantly meeting and greeting people face-to-face (in pre-pandemic times) means fresh breath is of the utmost importance. But Her Majesty has taken this one step further and is alleged to have completely banned garlic from Buckingham Palace, according to a former royal chef2. Garlic-avoidance isn't a uniquely British tradition – throughout history, different groups, cultures and religions have shunned garlic for a variety of reasons.
Garlic has grown in its modern form for thousands of years and is believed to have originated in central Asia. The earliest record of garlic being consumed has been traced back to the Sumerians, an ancient civilization that existed around 3000 BC in a region that forms part of modern-day Iraq3. Over time, garlic has rooted itself in various cultures' cuisines and traditional medicines. Its use in Chinese medicine is rooted in the philosophical concept of yin and yang; garlic, a pungent and strong tasting plant, is believed to have stimulating and healing effects on health. From 2700BC until the present day, garlic has been a recommended remedy for various conditions and ailments3. Modern research into garlic's effects has shown that garlic can effectively reduce high blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels4- these are two risk factors that can be used to gauge heart health risk.
The humble garlic plant has even been credited in the building of the great Egyptian pyramids. By deciphering inscriptions carved into ancient Egyptian structures, archaeologists have uncovered valuable information about the local diets and habits of the time. According to one such inscription, garlic was the most commonly used medicinal plant in Egyptian times and it was consumed frequently as an 'irreplaceable nutritional supplement'3. Builders, in particular, are thought to have eaten large quantities of garlic, which may have been a vital source of nutrients and nourishment in times of drought3. But not all cultures have such a positive view of this potent-smelling plant.
Buddhist monks have historically avoided consuming garlic, onions, chives, leeks and green onions – these members of the Allium family are known collectively as the five pungent vegetables and according to Buddhist wisdom, they're best avoided if you're seeking enlightenment. Consuming these plants is said to interfere with a monk's meditation practices as they can cause stomach bloating and flatulence, two extremely distracting problems that could hinder anyone's focus on inner peace5.
Similar traditions are found in Hindu and Jain beliefs; these religions avoid pungent vegetables as they are believed to encourage sloth or increase sexual desires6. Garlic has never been officially outlawed in any country, but the city of Gary in Indiana, US comes close with strict regulations on its consumption. After eating garlic, a person is legally required to wait at least four hours before riding public transport or visiting a cinema; whether these laws would or could be enforced is still a matter of debate.
Recent developments in healthcare have allowed us to scientifically test garlic as a treatment for various conditions. Research from multiple studies shows that garlic can help to lower abnormally high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, but its' potent odour can be a barrier to how often we eat it4. How could you take advantage of garlic's heart-supporting properties without having to worry about bad breath? Take a look at the Kwai range of garlic-based supplements, each formulated to support blood pressure, cholesterol and normal heart function. We coat every tablet at least 60 times to create easy-to-swallow tablets that are free from all tastes and odours. Find the right Kwai product for you by clicking here.