Vampires beware: Scripps scientists describe molecular basis of raw garlic's pungency

Cooked or raw, garlic has been a favorite ingredient of cooks for thousands of years, but almost any cook will tell you there's a major difference: raw garlic is much more pungent than cooked.

Now, a group of scientists from The Scripps Research Institute, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, and the Korea University College of Medicine is explaining the biological basis of raw garlic's burn.

In the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, the scientists, led by Scripps Research Associate Professor Ardem Patapoutian and Lindsey Macpherson, who is a graduate student in the Kellogg School of Science and Technology at Scripps Research, describe the cellular and molecular basis of raw garlic's pungency. Raw garlic contains a chemical called allicin that gives it its kick, because the allicin in raw garlic activates a pair of ion channel proteins called TRPV1 and TRPA1 that are expressed on pain-sensing neurons in the mouth.

Garlic Has Caused Bad Breath for Thousands of Years

Garlic ranks second only to salt, perhaps, in terms of flavoring humans have added to food throughout history. The plant originated in the wilds of Central Asia, and it appears in ancient writings by the Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, and Chinese cultures as far back as 5,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of it, and garlic is referred to in writings by Homer, Aristophanes, and Virgil.

Garlic was introduced into Europe by crusaders towards the end of the Middle Ages, migrated to the United States centuries later, and today is a major U.S. crop. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United States produced nearly 300,000 metric tons of garlic in 2004 -- much of that coming from the farmlands of California.

Through the centuries, the plant has enjoyed speculation about its medicinal properties. In Larousse's Gastronomique --

Contact: Jason Bardi
Scripps Research Institute

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