Inside Garlic Odor: The Why and What of Its Smell

Close up of garlic and garlic press on cutting board
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Garlic is an herb known for its unique taste in savory dishes and health-wise for its ability to help detoxify the body, boost immune function, lower blood pressure and improve circulation. China produces the most garlic in all the world, almost 23 billion pounds of garlic per year, that's roughly 77% of the world’s production of garlic. Whether you're cooking it yourself, or enjoying a garlic-flavored dish, the issue of that garlicky smell is a very present one.

What's Responsible for Garlic Odor?

When garlic cells are ruptured by cutting or pressing, they release an enzyme called alliinase. This enzyme chemically changes the inherent alliin into allicin, a sulfur-containing molecule, resulting in that heady, pungent garlic smell which is a mainstay in kitchens around the world. These sulfur molecules are absorbed into the bloodstream and lungs, escaping through exhaled air and perspiration. Thus, the garlic breath. And, in some people who consume massive quantities, a noticeable garlicky bodily odor can result.

Getting Rid of Garlic Odor

If you are a garlic-lover, it's wise to surround yourself with others who enjoy garlic or try munching on parsley to rid yourself of garlic breath. It's much easier to get the smell of garlic off your hands than it is to get rid of garlic breath. To rid your hands of the smell after peeling and/or chopping garlic, simply wash your hands and then rub your clean hands on a stainless steel faucet. There is also a product called Rub Away that uses a soap-shaped piece of stainless steel. When rubbed between your hands, it removes the smell of garlic completely. This works because stainless steel binds with the stinky sulfur molecules in garlic, they bind together when rubbed and come off of your hands. If you're not sold on an extra hunk of metal, sucking or squeezing a wedge of lemon will also help mask the garlic smell from both your hands and your mouth.

Garlic Odor Gets in Your Lungs

Have you tried parsley, lemon and everything in between, yet still the garlic breath persists. There's an explanation. After you've eaten garlic, the sulfur that gives off the odor, specifically allyl methyl sulfide, actually enters your bloodstream, give your lungs fresh garlic air to pump through your mouth until it's completely out of your system. The only way to get it out of your ​bloodstream is to excrete it through normal bodily functions including sweat, urinating, and breathing.