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Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science

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Overview

The name "Allium" is said to come from the Greek word to avoid because of its offensive smell. The genus Allium includes more than 800 species of which only a few have been cultivated as foods. Many of the other members of this genus are popular with gardeners as easy to maintain perennials, although the smell of some members of the genus can be off-putting. The smell is a consequence of breakdown of sulfur-containing compounds which is a characteristic of this family of plants. Garlic, onions, leeks, chives and other members of the genus Allium occupy a unique position both as edible plants and herbal medicines, appreciated since the dawn of civilization. Alliums have been featured through the ages in literature, where they are both praised and reviled, as well as in architecture and the decorative arts. Garlic pills are top-selling herbal supplements while garlic-based products show considerable promise as environmentally friendly pesticides. The remarkable properties of the alliums can be understood based on the occurrence of a number of relatively simple sulfur-containing chemical compounds ingeniously packaged by nature in these plants. This unique book, with a foreword by 1990 Nobel Laureate E.J. Corey, outlines the extensive history and the fascinating past and present uses of these plants, sorting out fact from fiction based upon detailed scrutiny of historic documents as well as numerous laboratories studies. Readers will be entertained and educated as they learn about early cultivation of garlic and other alliums while being introduced to the chemistry and biochemistry. They will learn how alliums have been portrayed and used in literature, poetry, the arts and how alliums are featured in the world's oldest cookbook. Technical material is presented in a manner understandable to a general audience, particularly through the use of illustrations to simplify more difficult concepts and explain how experimental work is conducted. The book is heavily illustrated with examples of alliums in art, literature, agriculture, medicine and other areas and includes rare botanical drawings of many members of the genus Allium. Essential reading for anyone with a general interest in science, the book is written at a level accessible to experts and non-experts alike. It has sufficient additional detail and references to satisfy both those wanting to know more, as well as researchers in disciplines as diverse as archaeology, medicine, ecology, pharmacology, food and plant sciences, agriculture, and organic chemistry.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This book brings to mind the poet Horace’s formula for successful writing: He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time. Eric Block has certainly mixed the useful and the sweet in his book. I started Block’s book as a reviewer and became an admirer. A book that contributes so richly to my teaching and understanding of chemistry is a rare pleasure.
Journal of Sulfur Chemistry - Wolfgang H.H. Gunther
Comprehensive does not begin to describe the contents of this book because it is so wide-ranging in its cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary coverage.
Education in Chemisty - David Quick
'There is some fascinating chemistry told here. Both the chemistry itself and the story of its revelation are given in detail.Within the book there are some fascinating anecdotes - a town in America where it is illegal to attend a theatre after eating raw onions, the resigned reflection that despite its benefits 'garlic mouthwash is unlikely to be a winning consumer product' and the warning that garlic in your socks will come out on your breath. Now there's an experiment any of us can try.'
The New York Times, 8 June 2010, Harold McGee - Harold McGee
What do garlic and onions have in common with gunpowder? A lot. They are incendiary. They can do harm and they delight. Sulfur is central to their powers. And they helped inspire the work of a chemist who has just published a welcome treatise on the smelly yet indispensable allium family. Dr. Block's book may be the definitive word on the alliums for the moment, but as it and he make clear, there are new flavors to look forward to.
Chemistry World - Jim Hanson
This is a fascinating book written by an authority on the chemistry of the edible alliums, which include garlic, onions, leeks and chives. The book is well written and up-to-date. I can thoroughly recommend this book not just to natural product chemists but also to all those who have grown these plants in the garden or enjoyed eating them. It contains many anecdotes and quotations to enliven a chemist's dinner party.
Food and Foodways, 18: 3, 170-172 - Thomas J Mansell
'...enjoyment of this book should not be limited to scientists. The book is a virtual encyclopedia of garlic and onion facts, and while it may make a necessary addition to the food chemistÆs library, it is something that any foodie, especially a garlic lover, can enjoy.'Harold McGee
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2010, 49, 2 - Derek A Pratt
'...well organized, and presents something for everyone. It should be said right away that this is far from a typical ôchemistryö book due to both the varied content and the style of presentation. ...it all works rather well together; it is a fine example of how complex chemistry can be contextualized in a fascinating and often entertaining way.'
Biochemist e-volution - Iain J McEwan
'Block writes well and passionately...gives a very balanced assessment of the claims and evidence for the health benefits of eating or taking allium supplements, primarily garlic.The book is well written and illustrated: a particular bonus is the inclusion of 27 coloured botanical prints from a volume of Flora Germanica. It will probably be of most interest to students and researchers familiar with plant biochemistry, but there is also something for those curious about this group of plants that play a prominent role in cooking, culture and chemistry.'
Choice, v 47, No 10 - L Swatzell
'Block presents an entertaining and informative account of the history of garlic, onions, and other alliums. This ethnobotanic work is truly interdisciplinary, intended for a wide audience of historians, sociologists, chemists, cooks, botanists, and naturalists. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic, professional, and general libraries, all levels.'
The Garlic Press - Bob Dunkel
'Both entertaining, and at the same time a challenging read, there is a lot of valuable information in this book.My hat is off to Eric for the amazing contribution to the world's collection of allium science.'
Chemistry & Industry - Meriel Jones
This book by Eric Block is a synthesis of his four decades of distinguished work with alliums.His account of this ever-increasing knowledge is accessible and will even entertain readers without a deep knowledge of chemistry.Block may look at the world through garlic-tinged lenses, but in this book he is very good at getting readers to see it his way.
ASAPDOI: 10.1021/ed2001889 - Stepehen R Pruett
This book brings to mind the poet Horace's formula for successful writing: He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time. Eric Block has certainly mixed the useful and the sweet in his book.I started BlockÆs book as a reviewer and became an admirer. A book that contributes so richly to my teaching and understanding of chemistry is a rare pleasure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780854041909
  • Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry, The
  • Publication date: 11/5/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 454
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Block, Carla Rizzo Delray Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University at Albany, State University of New York, received a B.S. in chemistry from Queens College of the City University of New York and an M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University with 1990 Nobel Laureate E.J. Corey. Prior to coming to Albany he was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and he has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard University, the Universities of Illinois-Urbana, Frankfurt, and Bologna, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge University. Recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1984), the ACS Award for Advancement of Application of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (1987), the International Council on Main Group Chemistry Award for Excellence in Main Group Chemistry Research (1994) and the Kenneth C. Spencer Award of the Kansas City Section of the ACS (2003), Block is the author of more than 220 papers, 5 patents, 4 books, and is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. He is known for his discoveries elucidating the natural products chemistry of Allium species (garlic, onion, etc.) accomplished over a period of 35 years including: determination of the structure of the lachrymatory factor of the onion and its dimer; identification and synthesis of "ajoene" and vinyldithiins, anticoagulants from garlic, and bis-sulfine, cepaenes, and zwiebelanes, biologically active onion flavorants; identification of organoselenium compounds in Allium volatiles and in human garlic breath; identification of trace level Allium selenoamino acids; development of analytical methods for identification of Allium organosulfur flavor components. He co-authored a clinical trial of the effectiveness of garlic and garlic supplements as lipid-lowering agents and is researching applications of garlic-derived compounds as environmentally benign pesticides.

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Table of Contents

1. Allium Botany and Cultivation, Ancient and Modern 2. All Things Allium: Alliums in Literature, the Arts and Culture 3. Allium Chemistry 101: Historical Highlights, Fascinating Facts and Unusual Uses for Alliums; 4. Chemistry in a Salad Bowl: Allium Chemistry and Biochemistry 5. Alliums in Folk and Complementary Medicine 6. Alliums in the Environment: Allelopathy and Allium-Derived Attractants, Antibiotics, Herbicides, Pesticides and Repellents

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