Although William Shakespeare may not have appreciated the culinary and health benefits of “the stinking rose,” Ontarians and others around the world are becoming increasingly aware of them.
In an odorous testament to the growing consumer appetite for Ontario garlic, and an acknowledgement of its superior taste and health benefits, Stratford is well on its way to becoming a permanent addition to the growing list of Canadian and U.S. communities hosting garlic festivals.
On Sept. 12 from 9am to 4pm, the third annual Stratford Garlic Festival will feature more than 40 vendors, plus demonstrations, samples and information at the outdoor, family-oriented event.
“Shakespeare mentions garlic a number of times in his plays, but not exactly in a positive way,” said Eli Ham, who will be giving a talk on the Shakespeare-garlic connection during the event.
Over 90 per cent of the garlic at the festival will originate from within a 100-mile radius – ideal for anyone interested in adopting, or supporting, the 100-mile diet.
The event is presented by the Kiwanis Club of Stratford in conjunction with the Garlic Growers Association of Ontario (GGAO) and all proceeds go towards local community projects.
“The popularity of these festivals is getting bigger all the time,” said Warren Ham, president of August’s Harvest, a Perth County-based organic garlic grower and a participant in the event. “There’s just something about people who love garlic. They have a little bit more of an exclamation mark on their personalities,” he said.
While most of the garlic found on Ontario grocery shelves is from China, consumer demand for Ontario garlic has been increasing in recent years, despite costing an average of five times as much as the imported Chinese bulbs. “That’s because the garlic we grow here in Ontario is exceptional,” said Ham. “There’s no comparing it to Chinese garlic, which is bitter and biting.”
Koreans can attest to that, he said. “They eat about 50 pounds of garlic per person a year – compared to our three pounds – and they say we have the best garlic in the world. We are their taste preference.”
Ham added, “People are increasingly discovering garlic. Across the world’s cultures, garlic use is second only to salt in terms of flavouring. And in this cross-pollination of food culture, it’s evident the cultures with low garlic use are picking up the garlic habit, not the other way around.”
The growing interest in garlic is also attributable to it being increasingly recognized as a nutraceutical. While the word itself is fairly new (coined in 1991) and refers to any substance that is considered a food that also provides medical or health benefits, recognition of the power of garlic dates back to 1550 B.C.
Garlic has also been indispensable to Chinese medicine for thousands of years, it was used during the Second World War to prevent septic poisoning and gangrene, and has been used in folk medicine treatments for such ailments as bronchitis, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, leprosy, menstrual cramps, and high blood pressure. No wonder it is often referred to as the “poor man’s treacle,” or cure-all. It’s the enzyme in garlic, called allicin, that is attributed to having a positive effect on various ailments and Ontario garlic contains high levels of it.
Hardneck garlic also produces a seed pod in June, called a scape, which, Ham said, is a real delicacy and “the best kept garlic secret.” The celebration of Ontario garlic is also part of an emerging trend that is seeing consumers increasingly interested in buying and eating local food as often as possible.
“Food is delicious medicine,” Ham said. “And garlic inspires real passion in a lot of people.”
For a list of vendors, schedule of events and directions visit www.stratfordgarlicfestival.com.