Garlic has meant many things to different cultures throughout the generations. It's been seen as a miracle cure-all and the secret to immortality, but also been seen as disgusting or even toxic. Garlic's particular smell has been well-noted throughout human history. While some learn to ignore it or even like it, others find it unbearable.
Garlic is a traditional staple in many cultures' cuisines. China, Russia, Italy, India, Korea, and France are some of the many countries that have a long history with the herb. In others such as Japan and Britain, garlic is traditionally looked down upon with disdain. Even amongst cultures views on garlic can differ, especially between the different social classes. For example, while ancient Roman soldiers and poor civilians often used garlic, the upper-class were prone to loathing it. This has caused garlic and garlicky dishes to become stock Foreign Queasine in many countries.
"Garlic eater" has been an insult that dates back at least 2000 years. It can be a general insult, a classist euphemism for the lower class, or even an ethnic slur (often against Jewish or Italian people).
Garlic is referenced in all sorts of folklore and mythology. It has a history of being used for charms of all sorts and is known for being able to repel or even defeat all types of demons, ghosts, and monsters (often due to its smell). Vampires Hate Garlic is the most well-known example of this.
It is only in the 20th century that garlic began to become popular worldwide. In the 1920s it gained some popularity in England and America when salads became popular. Rubbing salad bowls with garlic was seen as a way of adding extra flavour to the salad. It however wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that garlic became socially acceptable in general. American chefs such as Julia Child and British chefs such as Elizabeth David brought garlic to the mainstream and made it popular amongst cultures that traditionally loathed it. Despite this, jokes about it still exist, though most are about its horrible smell more than anything.
Sub-trope to Stock "Yuck!".
- This trope has never been averted harder than in documentary feature Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, which is a love letter to "the stinking rose" and its devoted enthusiasts.
- The ancient Roman poet Horace hated garlic and made it clear in his works. After being given a garlicky dish (moretum), he wrote a Take That! against it in Epode 3 after getting indigestion. He compares it to both viper's blood and the poison that killed Hercules, and wonders if his dish was tampered by Canidia (an ancient Roman witch).
- The 19th century British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Italy and was astonished by the use of garlic. Garlic was considered a Foreign Queasine and especially was not consumed by the well-to-do:
What do you think? Young women of rank eat - you'll never guess what - garlick!
- The first known English-language book on salads, John Evelyn's Acetaria: A Discourse Of Salets, forbids garlic due to its smell. Evelyn thought garlic was only suitable for sailors and "rustic northerns". He even states that it is "part of the Punishment of such as had committed the horrid'st Crimes" and that "'Tis not for Ladies Palats, nor those who court them".
- Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management was an influential 1861 book on how to run a Victorian home. It's mentioned that "the smell of this plant [garlic] is generally considered offensive."
- Referenced in The English People by George Orwell from 1947 about the British disdain for garlic at the time:
As a rule, they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unlivable to them unless they have tea and black pudding.
- The British food writer Elizabeth David poked fun of the 1920s trend of using garlic on salad plates:
The grotesque prudishness and archness with which garlic is treated in this country has led to the superstition that rubbing the bowl with it before putting the salad in gives sufficient flavor. It rather depends on whether you're going to eat the bowl or the salad.
- Don Quixote: At one point Quixote is disgusted when he smells raw garlic on a girl he assumes is Dulcinea. Sancho placates him by saying that magicians have turned her into a common peasant by stealing her smell and replacing it with a garlicky one.
- In The Canterbury Tales, garlic is described as being only for commoners. Chaucer poked fun at them with the quote "(...)'Well loved he garleek, onyons and eek lekes/And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood(...)".
- In Paddington Bear, one of the stories involves Paddington going to a gymkhana, where he accidentally eats a bulb of garlic, mistaking it for one or Mrs Brown's meringues. Numerous people comment on the smell, but he is then able to win the 'Chase Me Charley' event by breathing in his horse's face to make her jump over the fences, despite failing every round before.
- In The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, the titular trio's fondness for garlic soup is treated as one of the signs that they're solidly on the low end of the class divide, compared to their prestigious clients.
- A number of hadiths (traditions based on Muhammad's words and actions) recommend against eating raw garlic before mosque attendance, in reference to its odor.
- The Bowser Manuscript is a collection of treatises of Ayurveda medicine. The first document describes how garlic came to be. Vishnu was distributing nectar to the demigods when he was tricked into giving two demons nectar. He cut their heads off before the nectar went down their throats. Where the nectar fell on the ground sprouted garlic and onion. According to Ayurveda eating garlic makes you strong like a demon but also makes you as unintelligent as one too.
- In Rose Is Rose, whenever someone has eaten garlic, their breath is portrayed with skulls and everyone is repulsed by it.
- Like many in his day, William Shakespeare disliked garlic. His plays feature quite a few negative references to it:
I'd rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill, far, than feed on cates and have him talk to me in any summerhouse in Christendom.
- In Hamlet, Hotspur uses garlic as an insult:
- Villainous Glutton (though he's more of an Anti-Hero nowadays) Wario of Super Mario Bros. has a Trademark Favorite Food of garlic. He's prone to Toilet Humor and it's even stated that the reason he has Eternally Pearly-White Teeth because his garlic eating habits scare off bacteria.
- In Plants vs. Zombies, Garlic is apparently abhorrent enough to disgust even zombies. Zombies who took a bite of Garlic will make a disgusted face and move to other lanes afterwards. In the second game, Garlic's Plant Food ability is breathing a pungent smell that affects the entire lane. All zombies in the range will switch lanes.
- During Shakespearean days, the "groundlings" (people who payed a cent to stand in the pit area of theatres) often snacked on garlic cloves. This caused the richer patrons to refer to them as "penny stinkers" and "garlic-mouthed stinkers".