When it's not being used to ward off vampires — not that today's female audiences want to ward them off — garlic serves as a multifunctional ingredient, ideal for use in foods ranging from pasta, pizza and potatoes to savory crackers, chips and dips.
Garlic also can be enjoyed fresh or raw — a state in which it is said to have additional nutritional and health benefits. The medicinal use of garlic (allium sativum, in Latin) dates back thousands of years and has long been a staple of the Mediterranean diet.
There is some evidence that garlic may help prevent heart disease, slow down atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and lower blood pressure slightly, as well as strengthen the immune system when taken as a supplement, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Despite its pungent odor and sharp bite, garlic has continued to garner fans over time, making it a welcome element in any number of prepared foods.
"People are using more fresh garlic than ever before," says John Duffus, vice president of sales for The Garlic Co. (http://thegarliccompany.com), Bakersfield, Calif. "This can be attributed to a number of trends, starting with the popularity of round-the-clock food programming like the Food Network, which exposes consumers to a lot of new cuisines. There is also a growing interest in ethnic foods that has risen out of changing U.S. demographics and from consumers who want to try new cuisines." In addition, garlic's health benefits appeal to those who want flavorful foods without excess calories, he notes.
Convenience has played an important role in increasing the use of garlic, too.
Today, garlic is "so much easier to use, especially for chefs," Duffus says. "Having peeled garlic ready to use has opened up new opportunities for its use."
Yet another factor influencing the U.S. market is sourcing. "For quite a while, Chinese-grown garlic was making huge inroads into the market here," Duffus explains. "But over the past two years, this has changed, and we've seen the demand for domestically grown garlic increase. This may be because of food safety concerns or just a matter of ‘buying local.'"
According to the September 2011 Garlic Market Report from Singapore-based Olam International Ltd., China remains the dominant source of dehydrated garlic, accounting for close to 85 percent of global supply, followed by U.S. at 14 percent. Although the Chinese have experienced some pricing volatility, Olam has witnessed increased demand for its U.S. and Chinese dehydrated garlic products both here and abroad.
Olam in mid-2010 acquired the Gilroy Foods & Flavors business from ConAgra Foods Inc., which included a significant garlic business. The city of Gilroy, Calif., calls itself "Garlic Capital of the World" and is home to the annual Garlic Festival in July.
The Garlic Co. produces more than 30 million lbs. of garlic annually. The manufacturer's newest addition is Fresh Diced Garlic. "For this product, our California-grown cloves of garlic are washed, diced and vacuum-packed," Duffus says. "We've been able to extend the refrigerated shelf life up to 30 days using a patent-pending process without the use of additives. Other diced garlic products on the market have a refrigerated shelf life of just 14 days. This is a significant advantage for our customers in all three channels — retail, foodservice and industrial."
Fresh Diced Garlic is an extension of The Garlic Co.'s line of vacuum-sealed products, which includes Fresh Peeled Garlic and Fresh Organic Peeled Garlic. The preservative-free SKU is sold in ready-to-use, individually sealed 3-oz. packages, which are available at retail under both The Garlic Company brand name and in private-label packaging. (Larger units are sold for foodservice and industrial use.)
At the restaurant level, "garlic is not only being used as an ingredient, but is also being integrated into the visual presentation ... topping, garnish, etc.," says Alan McGuirt, marketing manager for Van Drunen Farms (www.vandrunenfarms.com). The Momence, Ill.- based supplier is known for its freeze-dried, drum-dried, air-dried and low-moisture fruits, as well as its diced, fire-roasted, powder and sliced garlic varieties — all of which are certified organic.
The most recent introduction from Van Drunen Farms is its Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) 1/16-in. sliced garlic. The IQF process makes for a fresh-flavored product that is easily handled and has a low micro count, according to company literature. This new SKU complements Van Drunen Farms' line of IQF 1/4- and 1/8-in. diced garlic; freeze-dried 1/8-in. diced and fire-roasted options; and freeze-dried 1/8-in. diced garlic.