Garlic is an essential ingredient in many cuisines around the world. It is known for its strong flavor and aroma and has been used for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes. But what exactly is garlic? Is it a vegetable, an herb, both, or something else entirely?
At this point, it makes sense to define herbs and vegetables in the first place.
Botanically speaking, garlic (Allium sativum) is a vegetable. It is a member of the onion family (Alliaceae), which also includes onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. Like other vegetables, garlic is an edible plant that is grown for its edible parts. In the case of garlic, the edible part is the bulb, which is made up of several cloves.
However, garlic is used in cooking more similarly to a herb. It is typically added to dishes in small amounts to add flavor and is not usually eaten on its own.
When is Garlic Used as a Herb?
Garlic is commonly used as a culinary herb in many cuisines worldwide because of its pungent flavor and aroma. Some of the ways garlic is used as a herb in cooking include:
- Garlic is often used to add flavor to sauces, marinades, and dressings. It can be chopped, minced, or crushed and added to these preparations to give them a bold, savory taste.
- Garlic is a popular seasoning for meats, poultry, and seafood. It can be rubbed onto the surface of meats before cooking, added to meatloaf or meatballs, or used as a seasoning for roasted vegetables.
- Whole cloves of roasted garlic are often used as a garnish for meats and vegetables. Garlic can also be chopped and sprinkled over dishes as a finishing touch.
- Garlic can be infused into oils, vinegar, and other liquids to create a flavored base for dressings, marinades, and other preparations. The famous garlic-infused oil or ghee is topped on Indian and Pakistani dishes like “dal.”
Overall, garlic is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various ways to enhance the flavor and aroma of dishes. Its use as a herb in cooking is widespread and a key component in many cuisines worldwide.
When is Garlic Used as a Vegetable?
Garlic is commonly used as a culinary herb in many dishes, but it’s also sometimes used as a vegetable. Here is a list of a few examples of when cuisines or recipes use garlic as a vegetable:
- Garlic is used as a vegetable, typically when the entire head, or bulb, is cooked and eaten. In this case, garlic can be used as a vegetable in roasted garlic, garlic soup, garlic bread, and mashed potatoes.
- Additionally, some cuisines use young, tender garlic shoots or scapes as a vegetable in stir-fries, salads, and other dishes. These tender green shoots can be sliced and used like other green vegetables, like scallions or chives.
- In some regional dishes, garlic is added raw, as a vegetable, like in Indian pickles.
Hence, garlic’s use can be referred to as a vegetable when used in recipes in large quantities to enjoy health benefits rather than to add aroma.
The Final Say
Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether garlic is a herb or not is a matter of definition and depends on who you ask. In culinary terms and for most practical purposes, garlic is a herb, primarily but sometimes used as a vegetable. However, if you ask a botanist (like me), garlic becomes a vegetable.
In the end, in everyday language, it’s more accurate to classify garlic as a herb based on its culinary usage.