Italian agri-entrepreneurs cultivate kiss-friendly heritage garlic

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Garlic: no longer to be shunned on a first date (as long as you choose the aglione variety) © KissinGarlic
Garlic: no longer to be shunned on a first date (as long as you choose the aglione variety) © KissinGarlic

Related tags: Garlic, Agriculture

Two Italian entrepreneurial farmers have launched KissinGarlic a mildly flavoured garlic that is easily digested and doesn't cause bad breath. But by cultivating a plant variety that was on the cusp of being lost, they're also on a mission to "widen the food industry's horizons".

Garlic’s pungent aroma is down to the organosulphur compound allicin, which is formed whenever it is crushed or chopped. Given garlic’s reputation for causing bad breath, it will come as little surprise to learn that allicin is actually the plant’s natural defence mechanism against pests.

But an Italian entrepreneurial duo claim to have found the solution in the form of an ancient variety which does not contain allicin, known as aglione.

Former engineer Alessandro Guagni and lawyer Lorenzo Bianchi say: “For those who love garlic’s flavour but avoid it due to the difficulty in digesting it and for the inevitable downside of bad breath – not with KissinGarlic.”

The plant is around five times larger than the common garlic but can grow to up to ten times the size – something which "intrigues everyone"​, says Guagni – and its flavour,

garlic pack
© KissinGarlic

although garlicky, is more subtle and slightly spicy and doesn't cause indigestion.

Certified organic, the KissinGarlic bulbs are sold either by weight or number of bulbs, with price dependent on the conditions of each growing season.

Widening industry’s horizons

Today aglione is barely cultivated even in Italy, so much so that when Guagni and Bianchi wanted to set up a business cultivating and selling it, they struggled to find 
seeds.

According to Slow Food, a foundation which promotes food biodiversity and archives information on traditional products, local varieties and artisanal knowledge that are being lost, there are fewer than 10 producers of aglione today producing around 2000 bulbs each year, all of whom are centred in the reclaimed flat lands of the Chiana valley. It says the variety was lost following the industrialisation in the 1960s.

Bianchi and Guagni both spoke at the Rome version of renowned international conference TedxRoma earlier this month. In an interview​ in Italian with the organisers ahead of the event, Guagni said there are many agricultural products that have become marginal due to "mere commercial logic"​ despite their preciousness, culinary value or health benefits.

"There are always new ideas and this amuses us and galvanizes us. We will move forward in this direction [through] the rediscovery of agricultural products of excellence, grown organically with the goal of discovering new tastes and widening the horizons of the food industry."

Opting for tradition production and cultivation methods in the Chiana valley where the variety traditionally hails from, Guagni and Bianchi use machines only at certain parts of production such as sowing the seeds and transporting the bulbs once they have been harvested.

As for which fertiliser and herbicide to use, the pair also opted for a method that is perhaps less known in the world of industrial agriculture: ducks. The ducks eat the weeds growing in the fields, but don’t touch the garlic plants, while their droppings fertilise the soil.

The management of the plant, given its size, cannot be mechanized. So we trust in the help of our legs and hands and then the ducks: [they] clean the soil and fertilise it, thus allowing as little intervention as possible,” ​said Bianchi.

According to Oregan State University’s micronutrient information centre, crushing or chopping common garlic releases an enzyme called alliinase, triggering the formation of allicin. Cooking can inactivate alliinase leading some scientists to recommend letting garlic sit for 10 minutes after chopping or crushing it before cooking it.

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