The Science Of Garlic Breath
June 12, 2014

The Science Of Garlic Breath

People love, love, love garlic. It adds such tremendous flavor to foods and provides healthy nutrients to the body. Additionally, it has antibacterial properties that help protect the body. Oh, and let’s not forget how it wards off vampires, if you are into that kind of thing. What is the downfall? Garlic breath. Nobody likes garlic breath, but when we eat garlic, even a small amount, we suffer from the garlic breath. Or more specifically, others suffer from our garlic breath.

But why is that? Well, the American Chemical Society’s YouTube channel released a video explaining just why garlic leads to garlic breath. Once again, the ACS paired with the Compound Interest blog to give the hard chemistry facts to explain why something that tastes so good leads to breath that smells so badly.

The video explains that “Garlic contains four major volatile compounds that are responsible for that notorious garlic breath.” The compounds are diallyl sulfide, allyl methyl sulfide, allyl methyl disulfide, and allyl mercaptan. The interesting chemistry in these is that none of them are present until garlic is actually chopped or crushed. Once the garlic structure is damaged via chopping or crushing, the compound alliin converts to allicin, which is the compound responsible for that distinct odor that garlic gives off. After alliin converts to allicin, it then breaks down into the four compounds responsible for garlic breath. Each of the compounds contributes to garlic breath, but the allyl methyl sulfide is likely most responsible because it breaks down much slower in the body, so its odor lasts longer. Thanks allyl methyl sulfide.

On top of being responsible for garlic breath, the allyl methyl sulfide then passes into the bloodstream and organs. When we sweat, breathe, and have to pee, we excrete it thus the garlic scent presents itself. The good news is that eating parsley or drinking milk helps to combat and reduce garlic breath.

Moreover, that garlic breath (or sweat or pee) are definitely worth it for a couple of reasons. First of all, garlic is delicious. It adds an important flavor for many dishes that really takes a dish from bland to brilliant. In fact, some of the most beloved dishes are so because of how the garlic melds with and enhances the other flavors. Take tomato sauce, for instance. A tomato sauce without garlic does not have such a savory flavor nor does it really impact the tastebuds in such complicated ways.

Secondly, as mentioned earlier, garlic has antibacterial properties. Who wouldn’t want these?Diallyl sulfide, diallyl disulfide, and diallyl trisulfide are the three compounds that make up garlic’s antibacterial properties. These sulfur-containing compounds penetrate those bacteria cells via their cell membranes. Then they combine with certain enzymes or proteins “to alter their structures, which ultimately damages their cells.” That damage is the antibacterial property.

Chefs, home cooks, and eaters alike love garlic. Perhaps garlic breath is not the best, but all the benefits that garlic provides make it well worth having that breath. Between the way garlic stimulates the tastebuds to its protective powers, I will take garlic breath any day.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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