The allium family consists of over 800 species, including familiar culinary foods rich in gut supportive prebiotic fibers such as garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, and chives.
The first recorded evidence of culinary allium use was 5,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia in a recipe for chicken pot pie using onions, leeks, and garlic.
Their distinctive flavors are an evolutionary protective mechanism to keep the slow growing bulbs from being eaten in the wild.
Though often considered “strong” and “sharp” when raw, pickling, roasting, and sautéing mellows and sweetens these healthful ingredients.
Nutrition: Allicin is the beneficial heart-healthy compound in garlic but is not found in whole cloves. To activate, garlic must be crushed so cell contents mix to allow the enzyme alliinase to transform alliin to allicin. Always crush your fresh garlic with the back of a knife and allow to sit for ten minutes before chopping or roasting.
The half-life of allicin is 2.5 days, to maximize health benefits, eat freshly prepared garlic dishes within this time frame.
High intake of alliums can aggravate acid reflux and cause belching in some people.
Fun Facts: Garlic comes in two varieties, soft-neck and hard-neck. A spring delicacy is the garlic scape, the top shoots of hard-neck garlic which are removed to promote large clove formation.
Storage Tips: Store bulb onions and garlic in a cool, dry, and dark location to keep them from sprouting . Leeks, chives, and cut onions can be stored short-term in the refrigerator.
Leeks are notorious dirt collectors. Trim the dark green portion leaving only the light green and white for cooking. Sauté your leeks thoroughly to impart a richer flavor in potato leek soup.
Fun Facts: Walla Walla onions have been the official Washington State vegetable since 2007. The low sulphur content of soil in that region makes for excellent wine and onion production. Available June through August, these sweet onions are best eaten raw.
FYI: Studies show maternal intake of alliums correlates to infants spending more time at the breast, though not
necessarily a higher volume of milk intake.
Amber Phillips, MS, RD is a registered dietitian at Island Hospital. She has a Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA and a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN. Phillips has a keen interest in community education. “Nutrition advice can be confusing and sometimes conflicting,” says Phillips. “My role as a dietitian is to follow the latest research and make it easy to understand for my patients and the public.” To schedule an appointment with Phillips, call (360) 299-1300 x2567.