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#1
Old 09-12-2012, 04:18 PM
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Why do humans like garlic so much?

One of my mothers-in-law, a fantastic cook, likes to say "you can never use too much garlic." And while I think that overstates the case, it's true that people and cultures all around the world enjoy putting a lot of garlic in a lot of dishes.

And yesterday it occurred to me to ask: Why? What is it about garlic that makes it such a satisfying flavor for people, in general? It seems unlikely that we evolved to crave garlic in particular, but is there something in its chemistry that matches something we did evolve to crave? Or is the popularity primarily a cultural issue?

Obviously some people don't care for garlic. I'm not meaning to imply that everyone loves it all the time. But what accounts for its broad popularity, beyond "it tastes good"?
#2
Old 09-12-2012, 04:31 PM
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Evolutionary response to the health benefits of garlic. Since people detest the smell of the stuff on other people's breath, they keep their distance and so don't infect you with their nasty germs. Consequently, the gene for finding the taste pleasant is strongly selected for as a survival advantage.


Maybe.
#3
Old 09-12-2012, 05:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra View Post
Evolutionary response to the health benefits of garlic. Since people detest the smell of the stuff on other people's breath, they keep their distance and so don't infect you with their nasty germs. Consequently, the gene for finding the taste pleasant is strongly selected for as a survival advantage.


Maybe.
That's probably not too far off from the truth.

Oh, and those who weren't offended by garlic wore it to protect themselves from vampires. Those that couldn't stand the stuff now walk amongst the dead. Evolution wins!
#4
Old 09-12-2012, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Interrobang!? View Post
But what accounts for its broad popularity, beyond "it tastes good"?
Because sometimes there is no bacon...
#5
Old 09-12-2012, 06:28 PM
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I think the elegant simplicity of Japanese cuisine may be an exception to norm.

I have read that during the period when Korea was a subject state the Japanese
contemptuously referred to the Koreans as "the garlic eaters".

I love garlic, but I have had dishes where it was, to my taste, overdone. And I like
garlic on the heavy side on some items such as French Bread.
#6
Old 09-12-2012, 06:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra View Post
Evolutionary response to the health benefits of garlic. Since people detest the smell of the stuff on other people's breath, they keep their distance and so don't infect you with their nasty germs. Consequently, the gene for finding the taste pleasant is strongly selected for as a survival advantage.


Maybe.
Evolution yes. But the reason is without garlic we would have all become vampires.
#7
Old 09-12-2012, 06:59 PM
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my Mom had no idea that garlic is the Food Of The Gods. I only learned it when I had a roommate that used to saute garlic on a cold winter's morn and put it on top of pasta, with butter and salt.

OMSMOG ( oh my sweet mother of god) that was most excellent and the whole house smelled like heaven. HEAVEN!!

since then, I have also felt "you can't use too much garlic"
#8
Old 09-12-2012, 07:25 PM
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It has a very strong flavor, so you can add a lot of flavor to a large dish by adding a relatively small amount of an ingredient. Simple as that.
#9
Old 09-12-2012, 08:32 PM
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Garlic is also very easily grown in kitchen gardens and even as a houseplant. Even the most impoverished people could add a lot of flavor without having to shell out money for what were, at times, very expensive spices.
#10
Old 09-13-2012, 04:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JackieLikesVariety View Post
...I had a roommate that used to saute garlic on a cold winter's morn...
For some reason, I read that as "salute".

Is there anything that smells better than roasting garlic?
#11
Old 09-13-2012, 05:14 AM
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Just a theory - garlic has a compound that thins the blood. Maybe our genes have some tastes that express themselves to ingest some things in moderation that are actually good for us (other examples would be wine & chocolate). Before the processed & packaging craze, there was actually wholesome food available. So, sometimes our bodies tell us what to eat. of course, no going overboard with sugar, fat, carbs, etc.

Last edited by benbo1; 09-13-2012 at 05:15 AM.
#12
Old 09-13-2012, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Alka Seltzer View Post
Is there anything that smells better than roasting garlic?
Baking bread.
#13
Old 09-13-2012, 07:39 AM
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Pet peeve time. All this talk of us evolving to like garlic because it's good for us in some way is what is often referred to as an evolutionary "Just-So" story. There's a real urge these days for some reason to link any old observed fact to some putative evolutionary selective pressure even in the absence of any actual evidence supporting the explanation. Not everything in life needs to be the result of millions of years of natural selection. Garlic tastes good. Given a wide selection of plants in the world, some of them are obviously going to taste better than others. Garlic is on the thin end of the taste bell curve. Lacking any studies demonstrating genetic evidence of positive selection in the region of the garlic taste receptor gene, or at least showing that over evolutionary time, garlic-eaters have outreproduced non garlic eaters, there's no reason to search for an evolutionary explanation.
#14
Old 09-13-2012, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Panda View Post
Baking bread.
I put garlic in my bread.
#15
Old 09-13-2012, 08:08 AM
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I suspect Smeghead's answer may be the best one.
#16
Old 09-13-2012, 09:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
Pet peeve time. All this talk of us evolving to like garlic because it's good for us in some way is what is often referred to as an evolutionary "Just-So" story. There's a real urge these days for some reason to link any old observed fact to some putative evolutionary selective pressure even in the absence of any actual evidence supporting the explanation. Not everything in life needs to be the result of millions of years of natural selection. Garlic tastes good. Given a wide selection of plants in the world, some of them are obviously going to taste better than others. Garlic is on the thin end of the taste bell curve. Lacking any studies demonstrating genetic evidence of positive selection in the region of the garlic taste receptor gene, or at least showing that over evolutionary time, garlic-eaters have outreproduced non garlic eaters, there's no reason to search for an evolutionary explanation.
Thank-you.

Fact is, we are omnivores and probably tried to eat just about everything over the millennia our species has been around (and prior). Unless something is poisonous, some group of people somewhere is going to eat it. And even then, they'll try and find a way to detoxify it and eat it!
#17
Old 09-13-2012, 10:34 AM
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Garlic stimulates the gastrohippocampal centers and deep nuclei in the brain, providing gratifying feedback loops that lead to ever more garlic consumption. This has led to our evolving from primitive Hominidae, otherwise we would look like this.

And garlic is like, really really good to eat.
#18
Old 09-13-2012, 11:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
Lacking any studies demonstrating genetic evidence of positive selection in the region of the garlic taste receptor gene, or at least showing that over evolutionary time, garlic-eaters have outreproduced non garlic eaters, there's no reason to search for an evolutionary explanation.
I think it is a reasonable hypothesis that all our taste preferences are influenced by evolution. Since you haven't disproved this hypothesis, I don't see any problem with considering some questions that we would have if the hypothesis is true.
#19
Old 09-13-2012, 11:32 AM
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Also, I'm a little disappointed that in GQ, no one has yet pointed out that it has a well-known immuno-modulatory role:

http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625738/

http://sciencedirect.com/science...92056199000387
#20
Old 09-13-2012, 11:50 AM
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Maybe my ignorance is showing. I'd have guessed that humans began eating garlic very recently, at least on an evolutionary time scale. I can't imagine a hunter-gatherer society munching on garlic roots. Maybe smashing it up and using it to season meat.

Have hominids been eating garlic for millions of years? Do other primates eat garlic?
#21
Old 09-13-2012, 12:06 PM
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Aroma plays a big part in the taste of food and garlic has big aroma which in turn tells us the food tastes good. In Italian restaurants the aroma of garlic can be really prevalent which causes us to like the food. In fact there is more aroma than taste (imo).

As a sidebar most Asian markets stock containers of fresh peeled garlic cloves in pints or quarts and they are great. No peeling and no garlic paper all over the floor... just grab and chop, roast, saute - whatever!
#22
Old 09-13-2012, 12:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
Lacking any studies demonstrating genetic evidence of positive selection in the region of the garlic taste receptor gene, or at least showing that over evolutionary time, garlic-eaters have outreproduced non garlic eaters, there's no reason to search for an evolutionary explanation.
This is a good point, though I'll point out that nowhere in my original question did I assume that we must have evolved to like garlic. It seems more likely that we either evolved to like something that garlic satisfies (but is not necessarily garlic), or that it's primarily a function of culture.

That said, it seems unlikely that the only reason is that garlic has a strong flavor. So does ginger, which is of course broadly popular, but I've never heard anyone tout ginger with the fervor some people have for garlic. Or onions.

But I'd certainly believe that the answer boils down to "it's got a good flavor profile and it's easier than most other spices to cultivate" -- though I'd like more evidence for that, too.
#23
Old 09-13-2012, 01:00 PM
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My WAG is that we like garlic because there are few things that taste like it. When cooked it's sweet but also sulphury and that is a relatively rare combination.
#24
Old 09-13-2012, 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by mr. jp View Post
I think it is a reasonable hypothesis that all our taste preferences are influenced by evolution. Since you haven't disproved this hypothesis, I don't see any problem with considering some questions that we would have if the hypothesis is true.
This is just it. It is a hypothesis. It's not necessarily a bad hypothesis, and it could even be a good jumping-off point for the start of some poor grad student's PhD thesis. My objection is not with speculation. It's with not labeling speculation clearly as such. I don't mean to pick on any particular post here, but when someone answers "why does XXX happen?" with "Oh, it happens because of YYY ," it implies that that is a known and certain answer, or at least that there's some evidence to back it up.

I have no problem with people saying, "perhaps it could be reasonable to think that YYY could be part of the explanation," but that rarely happens. People have a tendency to jump straight to the end and present their own ideas as fact. Even if those ideas are reasonable and even likely, in a format such as this, I think it's important to separate fact from possibility.

And I also admit that since I have studied some of the complexity behind evolution of complex behaviors, I have a bit of an aversion to the very simple "X evolved because of natural selection because of Y" explanations. The truth is often far more complex than that. There are a LOT of factors that go into evolution.
#25
Old 09-13-2012, 01:59 PM
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Yeah, I agree with that.
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