Garlic Lovers Rejoice, Hot Lettuce Is Here To Save Your Breath

Because nothing says ‘fresh’ like moist, steamy greens

Garlic crushed by a press
Crushing garlic helps start the chain of chemical reactions that produce that garlicky stench on your breathLee Kindness via Wikimedia Commons

It’s lunchtime. You’re eating a nice Mediterranean salad with a side of garlic hummus. Other people might worry about garlic breath, but not you. You’ve done research. You pop the lettuce from your salad in the microwave for four steamy minutes and chomp that puppy down. Boom. Your garlic breath is gone.

Sure, you could resort to chewing mint leaves, but who has mint leaves lying around? You need alternatives. Food chemistry researchers have been studying garlic breath for years, analyzing the compounds responsible for post-lunch embarrassment and how to eliminate them. A new study published in the Journal of Food Science found that drinking hot ham water--er, I mean, eating hot lettuce was one of the best ways to get rid of that garlicky after smell.

Fresh garlic contains a chemical called alliin (yes, it does have two i’s), which gets converted into a related molecule called allicin when you cut the garlic up. Allicin is basically what makes garlic smell like garlic, and also what gives garlic its antimicrobial properties.

The downside to allicin is that it’s fairly unstable, so it doesn’t stay allicin for long. It turns into chemicals like diallyl disulfide, allyl mercaptan, allyl methyl disulfide, and allyl methyl sulfide, all of which contribute to garlic breath.

But breaking those compounds down combats the garlicky stench, which is how foods like lettuce work in your favor. The researchers also found that the classic mint leaves worked well, as did hot apple bits, raw apple, and raw lettuce. Enzymes might have been responsible for some of the anti-garlic-breath properties of the raw food, but heating the lettuce and apple should have denatured the enzymes. That leaves the smell-fighting to basic chemical reactions to produce less nasally offensive molecules.

If vegetables aren't your thing, though, previous research found that milk was pretty effective too. The fat in milk can react in a similar manner as lettuce or apples, plus it washes away some of the garlic residue in your mouth. The bad news is that the effectiveness peaked when participants combined chopped garlic and whole milk into a single, demented beverage.

Hot lettuce doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?