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Vampires beware: St. Louis Garlic Fest pays homage to the most pungent ingredient in your kitchen

Did you know there are over 250 varieties of garlic?
Photography-S! | Flickr
Did you know there are over 250 varieties of garlic?

In Mark Brown’s mind, garlic is a “uniter” of people.

“Not everyone eats pork. Not everyone eats wheat or zucchini … but wherever you come from, your people, they eat garlic,” said the proprietor of Gateway Garlic Farms and the founder of St. Louis Garlic Fest, happening on Sept. 4.

The close relative of the onion, known in Latin as Allium sativum, has an impressively global history. That’s part of the reason why St. Louis Garlic Fest was started seven years ago. It was also done to pay homage to garlic’s sustainability as a farming crop.

“Humankind has been harvesting garlic from thousands of years,” Brown said.  “Geneticists say that it probably predates grain farming. Right now, we farm 205 varieties of garlic—many of these come from the original home of garlic in the Central Asian steppe (Georgia, Uzbekistan).”

The festival features bands, cooking demonstrations, garlic food vendors and even three separate garlic eating competitions. Better come prepared, though, the garlic eating record is still held by a 13-year-old who consumed 12 oz. of garlic in one minute four years ago. More information about the festival is here.

Mark Brown runs Gateway Garlic Festival and is one of the founders of STL Garlic Fest.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Mark Brown runs Gateway Garlic Festival and is one of the founders of STL Garlic Fest.

Brown himself farms six acres of garlic, along with other crops. He said he sells the majority of the garlic to large-scale wholesalers, but it is also available locally at City Greens on Manchester, Local Harvest on Morganford and some restaurants in town. He hopes other garlic farmers will take root in the Midwest because he is concerned about the amount of garlic we import from China.

“We have a great climate for it and I don’t see why we shouldn’t have more,” Brown said.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Brown joined the program to discuss the history of garlic, just how many people are farming garlic in the St. Louis region and some of the more, ahem, interesting foods people can partake of at St. Louis Garlic Fest this Sunday. 

Here are several interesting things we learned about garlic form our discussion:

1. Garlic can be grown year-round.

“Why we like to use garlic is because it is a sustainable crop, it grows during the wettest months of the year and allows the farmer, who is usually growing between spring and fall, to grow 365 days of the year,” said Brown.

2. Geneticists estimate there are 216 varieties of garlic, but some people have estimated there are more than 800 varieties.

Brown said that different kinds of garlic vary in intensity, flavor and aftertaste, “very much like apples or grapes.” Garlic itself is broken into two main families, hard neck and soft neck, and from there it can be broken into ten smaller families. You can tell the difference based on color, how cloves are arranged on the bulb and how they smell.

3. Garlic can be used in ways you don’t expect in the kitchen.

Brown said the strangest way he’d seen garlic used was in a concoction Cherokee Street store I Scream Cakes makes and brings to Garlic Fest every year: garlic ice cream.

“She makes this absolutely wonderful honey-roasted garlic ice cream this is just beautiful,” Brown said.

Other examples? Garlic chocolate truffles and garlic cheese.

Another interesting dish includes one that Brown himself manufactures. It is called “black garlic,” which consists of garlic fermented at 140 degrees and 100 percent humidity for 40 days. The end product resembles black butter and retains Allicin-building compounds (which have been linked to anti-microbial activities) that you can usually only find in raw garlic.

Brown believes he may be the only local garlic producer making black garlic for sale in the Midwest, though it is also for sale at Trader Joe’s.

4. Garlic loses some of the health benefit the longer you cook it

“What you need to do is consume garlic fresh,” Brown said. “The longer you cook garlic, the longer those allicin-building compounds are destroyed. Best for you to chew it raw, or next to raw.”

If you like caramelized garlic in your dishes, Brown recommends caramelizing a portion of it and then adding a bit of raw garlic at the very end to capitalize on its health benefits.

5. Vegetable? Herb? Plane, train, or something else? What do we call garlic?

“At Garlic Fest III, a health group came down from the Carondelet health clinic and they had proof that garlic is a vegetable,” said Brown. “I’ve seen some people equate it to an herb. If you go in some groups to buy prepared garlic, you’d find it near black pepper or salt. But, technically, it is a vegetable.”

6. Does garlic make your breath stink? Here’s an alternative.

Drink a glass of milk after consuming garlic. And if your hands smell funny, rub them on stainless steel to ward off the smell.

Related Event

What: 7th Annual St. Louis Garlic Fest

When: Sunday, September 4 from 12-7 p.m.

Where: Iron Barley Restaurant, 5510 Virginia Ave, St Louis, MO.

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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