Living in France you soon discover there are numerous festivals that celebrate different foods from around the country.
National Garlic Day although not a festival, is still an opportunity to celebrate this small vegetable used by so many to flavour food.
Being a lover of garlic and using it daily in cooking, I was interested to find out more about where garlic originated from and why the French love it so much.
When is National Garlic Day?
Referred to as the “stinking rose,“ National Garlic Day is celebrated around the world on April 19 each year. And of course, France is a willing participant.
Why do we celebrate National Garlic Day?
Thought to have incredible health benefits, the idea behind National Garlic Day is to help people discover the history of this spice.
It’s a time to understand the various types of garlic available and why it’s developed into one of the most used vegetables in cooking.
Although garlic is considered a root vegetable in botanical terms, as a member of the onion family, it’s also referred to as a spice.
National Garlic Day in France
Although garlic is a native plant from Asia, it was the Romans who first brought garlic to France.
You see garlic in those days was thought to give courage, and so wherever they went the Roman army would plant garlic. It was cultivated and used to give the soldiers going into battle the courage they needed.
As you can imagine, this meant it started to make its way into the culture of cooking in France.
In France, garlic translates as “ail” and there are many different types from pink and violet to smoked and regional varieties.
The most popular are:
- l’ail rose de Lautrec
- l’ail violet de Cadours
- l’ail fumé d’Arleux
- l’ail blanc de Lomagne
- l’ail de Provence
The Legends of Garlic in France
If you’ve ever wondered where those pictures of French men wearing berets, strippy blue and white T-shirts, and strings of garlic around their necks have come from, then keep reading.
Now, of course, we all know the tale of how wearing garlic around your neck will ward off the vampires. But what about in your shoe?
Well apparently, in the middle ages, people believed that when put in your shoe, it could keep whooping cough at bay. And if soaked in vinegar, you could keep the plague away. You’ve gotta love a legend.
Although not a legend, it was Louis Pasteur who discovered that garlic had antiseptic properties and was considered to have medicinal value.
The Legends of Garlic from around the world
In ancient Greek mythology, garlic was said to have been created by the goddess Cybele. According to legend, when the god Hermes was born, he was so hungry that he stole some oxen from Apollo and sacrificed them to the gods.
As punishment, Apollo made Hermes promise to always tell the truth, and Cybele gave him a garlic bulb to eat, which made him smell so bad that he was unable to lie without being detected.
In Chinese folklore, garlic was believed to be a powerful demon repellent. It was often used to ward off evil spirits and protect against black magic.
Garlic was also said to have been used by the famous Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu to protect himself from demons during his travels.
In some African cultures, garlic was used in rituals to protect against witchcraft and evil spirits. It was also believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including high blood pressure and fever.
Growing Garlic in France
Here in France, we have two different types of garlic, the ones planted in Spring and the ones planted in Autumn, but both are harvested in July. They’re plaited together and can last for quite a few months. The image of French men with plaits of garlic around their neck spring to mind.
The official French catalogue of garlic varieties lists 30 varieties of garlic found in France and tells you when to plant, how to grow and ways to harvest.
Do the French eat a lot of Garlic?
As one of the leading producers of garlic, France produces approximately 20,000 tonnes of garlic every year.
And according to a report by the French Ministry of Agriculture, French people consume an average of 1.5 to 2 kg of garlic per person per year.
It’s used in a wide range of dishes, from classic dishes like soupe à l’ail (garlic soup) and poulet à l’ail (garlic chicken) to modern recipes like garlic aioli and garlic butter.
However, I think my favourite has to be Mussels in Garlic and White Wine Sauce.
Lautrec Pink Garlic - maybe the Best Garlic in France
The pink garlic of Lautrec is probably the most famous garlic in France, maybe due to the fact it has its own festival.
According to legend, it was first introduced in the Middle Ages when a penniless peddler paid for his accommodation in garlic cloves he’d brought with him.
The innkeeper fell in love with the colour and taste and started planting his own, which is how it developed in the region.
It’s more delicate in taste than the traditional white garlic we’re used to seeing that’s readily available in supermarkets.
In 1966 it was awarded the prestigious Label Rouge (Red Label) guaranteeing the quality and origin of production.
It also received the IPG or Certificat d’Identification Geograhique Protégée (certificate of protected geographical identification) in 1996.
It wasn’t till 1970 that the festival came into being. It’s held annually on the first Friday of August and is quite literally a festival that extols the virtues of garlic, including competitions such as the longest garlic plait (manouille in French.)
So protected is this pink garlic that there is an actual brotherhood, the Syndicat de Défense du Label Ail Rose de Lautrec, to promote it.
For more information on Food Festivals in France read this article >>>
Conclusion: National Garlic Day and Why the French Love Garlic
As you can see, garlic not only has some great health benefits but there are so many varieties to enjoy. The French have long been advocates of garlic and use it in many of their recipes. You’ll find it in everything from soups and casseroles to prawns and escargot, so Vive L’Ail en France.