Garlic Breath

Garlic clovesGarlic breath has caused consternation for hundreds of years.  Some people are more affected than others and different forms of preparation will cause more of the flavour and odour to be present. As a rule, the stronger the garlic flavour, the stronger the effect on breath and body odour. Experiments have shown that the source of some of the breath odour is small particles of garlic retained in the mouth, and if this is the case then it is possible that mouthwashes, cleaning the teeth or the suggestions below will alleviate or mask the odour.

Early antidotes were raw beans, parsley and baked beetroot, chewed vigorously. Today the list is longer: parsley, spinach, celery, ginger, chervil, peppermint, fennel, cardamon or fenugreek seeds, coffee beans, angelica water, cloves, milk and various proprietary brands of mouthwash have all been suggested. Researchers at the department of Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University discovered in 2010 that drinking a glass of milk can reduce the bad breath associated with eating garlic. Whole, full fat milk was the most effective and it was more effective if drunk during the meal, then after.

However odour and flavour constituents also enter the blood stream. Several days after eating garlic, perspiration can still be odorous. Cows that eat alliums produce milk that smells of garlic, very soon afterwards, and the only means of this contamination is through the bloodstream. For the same reason, breastfeeding mothers are often advised not to eat garlic or onion if their babies are colicky. Once garlic is in the bloodstream the air leaving the lungs will also be affected. The major odour components isolated from human breath are allyl mercaptan and diallyl disulphide.

A long bath in very warm water is supposed to cause the garlic to be exuded from the body more quickly, but if the garlic odour is too bothersome it might be better not to eat it in the first place.There are some people who really react badly to garlic (and other alliums) with an upset digestive system, heartburn and severe garlic breath and body odour. This can result from and inability to oxidise the suphides in garlic, in these cases raw garlic should be avoided and perhaps you shouldn’t eat garlic at all.

There seems to be no complete solution to breath and body odour. Maybe you just need to think positively like the old New York proverb that says, ‘A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat’. Raw chopped garlic will produce stronger odours than boiled or roasted whole garlic, but freshly grown and prepared garlic never leaves as much odour as commercially prepared garlic pastes. Those who regularly eat garlic are less likely to be odiferous than those who occasionally binge.

Garlic is an excellent source of magnesium, vitamin B6 and C, and selenium. Combine this with the fact that the flavour and the medicinal efficacy of garlic depend on the presence of the chemicals that produce the odour, and this means it is best to view garlic in the same way as the people of Italy, Greece, China and most of the rest of the world, who eat it on a daily basis. If everyone eats garlic, no-one will be offended by the smell. I would even go so far as to agree with John Swenson who advised, ‘If your friends  are bothered by garlic breath, get new friends’ and be reassured by JG Ballard who said ‘One rule in life, if you can smell garlic, everything is all right.’

Article and photos by Penny Woodward

Copyright AGIA and Penny Woodward