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Scientists find way to ramp up flavour of the super-strength garlic or create less pungent versions

For some, you can’t have enough garlic in your food. But for others – not only vampires – the slightest whiff is too much.

Now a scientific breakthrough may be good news for almost all of us.

Researchers have unlocked the key to garlic’s distinctive aroma.

And that means they should be able to use their findings to produce super-strength varieties for the supermarket shelves.

But it may also help them create more subtle versions that do not cause such bad breath.

So buyers would, for the first time, be able to tell how strong the garlic was before getting it home and munching on it.

The US team identified the process that creates allicin.

This is the oily chemical that causes the distinctive flavour and sulphurous odour when garlic is chopped or crushed. 

They found that it was produced by a reaction between one of the compounds in garlic, allyl mercaptan, and an enzyme, monooxygenase.

The discovery disproved the generally accepted mechanism. 

And as allicin levels can be tested, growers will be able to know the strength of their crops in advance.

Farmers will be able to cultivate garlic to the exact potency they want. 

This will let buyers select the type they prefer based on strength – in a similar way to how we buy chillies.

‘This information changes the whole story about how garlic could be improved or we could make the compounds responsible for its unique flavour,’ said the study’s lead author, Hannah Valentino of Virginia Tech. 

‘This could lead to a new strain, more potent garlic – boosting flavour and bad breath.

‘Greater flavour can simply be predicted, meaning powerful garlic could simply be bred or engineered. Garlic could be sold as strong or weak, depending on consumer preferences.’

Professor Pablo Sobrado, co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, said: ‘We have a basic understanding of the biosynthesis of allicin that is involved in flavour and smell.

‘But we also now understand an enzyme that we can try to modulate, or modify, to increase or decrease the level of the flavour molecules.’

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