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Allium sativum Woodwill 1793.jpg
Allium sativum, known as garlic, from William Woodville, Medical Botany, 1793.
Scientific classification e
Species:A. sativum
Binomial name
Allium sativum
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For other uses, see Garlic (disambiguation).
Allium sativum Woodwill 1793.jpg
Allium sativum, known as garlic, from William Woodville, Medical Botany, 1793.
Scientific classification e
Species:A. sativum
Binomial name
Allium sativum

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium.

Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive,[1] and rakkyo.[2] With a history of human use of over 7,000 years, garlic is native to central Asia,[3] and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was known to Ancient Egyptians, and has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.[4]


Allium sativum is a bulbous plant. It grows up to 1.2 m (4 ft) in height. Its hardiness is USDA Zone 8. It produces hermaphrodite flowers. Pollination occurs by bees and other insects.[5]

Origin and major types[edit]

According to Zohary and Hopf,[6] "A difficulty in the identification of its wild progenitor is the sterility of the cultivars", though it is thought to be descended from the species Allium longicuspis, which grows wild in central and southwestern Asia.[7][8] Allium sativum grows in the wild in areas where it has become naturalized. The "wild garlic", "crow garlic", and "field garlic" of Britain are members of the species Allium ursinum, Allium vineale, and Allium oleraceum, respectively. In North America, Allium vineale (known as "wild garlic" or "crow garlic") and Allium canadense, known as "meadow garlic" or "wild garlic" and "wild onion", are common weeds in fields.[9] One of the best-known "garlics", the so-called elephant garlic, is actually a wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum), and not a true garlic. Single clove garlic (also called pearl or solo garlic) originated in the Yunnan province of China.

European garlic[edit]

Flower head

There are a number of garlics with Protected Geographical Status in Europe; these include:

Italian garlic PDO (Aglio Bianco Polesano)

Subspecies and varieties[edit]

There are two subspecies of A. sativum,[10] ten major groups of varieties, and hundreds of varieties or cultivars.[11]


Garlic is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates. While sexual propagation of garlic is indeed possible, nearly all of the garlic in cultivation is propagated asexually, by planting individual cloves in the ground.[7] In cold climates, cloves are planted in the autumn, about six weeks before the soil freezes, and harvested in late spring. The cloves must be planted at sufficient depth to prevent freeze/thaw which causes mold or white rot[12] Garlic plants are usually very hardy, and are not attacked by many pests or diseases. Garlic plants are said to repel rabbits and moles.[2] Two of the major pathogens that attack garlic are nematodes and white rot disease, which remain in the soil indefinitely after the ground has become infected.[7] Garlic also can suffer from pink root, a typically nonfatal disease that stunts the roots and turns them pink or red.[13]

Garlic plants can be grown closely together, leaving enough space for the bulbs to mature, and are easily grown in containers of sufficient depth. Garlic does well in loose, dry, well drained soils in sunny locations, and is hardy throughout USDA climate zones 4–9. When selecting garlic for planting, it is important to pick large bulbs from which to separate cloves. Large cloves, along with proper spacing in the planting bed, will also improve bulb size. Garlic plants prefer to grow in a soil with a high organic material content, but are capable of growing in a wide range of soil conditions and pH levels.[7]

There are different types or subspecies of garlic, most notably hardneck garlic and softneck garlic. The latitude where the garlic is grown affects the choice of type as garlic can be day-length sensitive. Hardneck garlic is generally grown in cooler climates; softneck garlic is generally grown closer to the equator.[14][15]

Garlic scapes are removed to focus all the garlic's energy into bulb growth. The scapes can be eaten raw or cooked.[12][16]

Production trends[edit]

Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic, with approximately 10.5 million tonnes (23 billion pounds) grown annually, accounting for over 77% of world output. India (4.1%) and South Korea (2%) follow, with Egypt and Russia (1.6%) tied in fourth place and the United States (where garlic is grown in every state except for Alaska) in sixth place (1.4%).[17] This leaves 16% of global garlic production in countries that each produce less than 2% of global output. Much of the garlic production in the United States is centered in Gilroy, California, which calls itself the "garlic capital of the world".[18]

Top 10 garlic producers in 2010
CountryProduction (tonnes)Footnote
 South Korea271,560
 United States169,510
* = Unofficial figure | [ ] = Official data | A = May include official, semi-official or estimated data
F = FAO estimate | Im = FAO data based on imputation methodology | M = Data not available

Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)[19]


Culinary uses[edit]

Garlic being crushed using a garlic press
String of garlic

Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor as a seasoning or condiment.

The garlic plant's bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant. With the exception of the single clove types, garlic bulbs are normally divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. Garlic cloves are used for consumption (raw or cooked) or for medicinal purposes. They have a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.[20]

Other parts of the garlic plant are also edible. The leaves and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are sometimes eaten. They are milder in flavor than the bulbs,[2] and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. Immature garlic is sometimes pulled, rather like a scallion, and sold as "green garlic".[21] When green garlic is allowed to grow past the "scallion" stage, but not permitted to fully mature, it may produce a garlic "round", a bulb like a boiling onion, but not separated into cloves like a mature bulb.[22] Additionally, the immature flower stalks (scapes) of the hardneck and elephant types are sometimes marketed for uses similar to asparagus in stir-fries.[7]

Inedible or rarely eaten parts of the garlic plant include the "skin" and root cluster. The papery, protective layers of "skin" over various parts of the plant are generally discarded during preparation for most culinary uses, though in Korea immature whole heads are sometimes prepared with the tender skins intact.[23] The root cluster attached to the basal plate of the bulb is the only part not typically considered palatable in any form.

Garlic is a fundamental component in many or most dishes of various regions, including eastern Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, southern Europe, and parts of South and Central America. The flavor varies in intensity and aroma with the different cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. The parchment-like skin is much like the skin of an onion, and is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat the cloves by dribbling olive oil (or other oil-based seasoning) over them, and roast them in an oven. Garlic softens and can be extracted from the cloves by squeezing the (root) end of the bulb, or individually by squeezing one end of the clove. In Korea, heads of garlic are fermented at high temperature; the resulting product, called black garlic, is sweet and syrupy, and is now being sold in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

Garlic may be applied to different kinds of bread to create a variety of classic dishes, such as garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé.

Oils can be flavored with garlic cloves. These infused oils are used to season all categories of vegetables, meats, breads and pasta.

In some cuisines, the young bulbs are pickled for three to six weeks in a mixture of sugar, salt, and spices. In eastern Europe, the shoots are pickled and eaten as an appetizer. Laba garlic, prepared by soaking garlic in vinegar, is a type of pickled garlic served with dumplings in northern China to celebrate the Chinese New Year.[1]

Lightly smoked garlic is becoming increasingly popular in British and European cuisine. It is particularly prized for stuffing poultry and game, and in soups and stews. In both these cases it is important to utilize the undiscarded skin, as much of the smoke flavor is situated there, rather than in the cloves themselves.

Immature scapes are tender and edible. They are also known as "garlic spears", "stems", or "tops". Scapes generally have a milder taste than the cloves. They are often used in stir frying or braised like asparagus.[16] Garlic leaves are a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. The leaves are cut, cleaned, and then stir-fried with eggs, meat, or vegetables.

Mixing garlic with egg yolks and olive oil produces aioli. Garlic, oil, and a chunky base produce skordalia. Blending garlic, almond, oil, and soaked bread produces ajoblanco. Yogurt mixed with garlic and salt is a common sauce in Eastern Mediterranean cuisines.

Garlic powder has a different taste from fresh garlic. If used as a substitute for fresh garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equivalent to one clove of garlic.


A basket of garlic bulbs
Ready peeled garlic cloves sold in a plastic container

Domestically, garlic is stored warm [above 18 °C (64 °F)] and dry to keep it dormant (lest it sprout). It is traditionally hung; softneck varieties are often braided in strands called plaits or grappes. Peeled cloves may be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator.[24] Commercially, garlic is stored at 0 °C (32 °F), in a dry, low-humidity environment.[25] Garlic will keep longer if the tops remain attached.[7]

Garlic is often kept in oil to produce flavored oil; however, the practice requires measures to be taken to prevent the garlic from spoiling. Untreated garlic kept in oil can support the growth of Clostridium botulinum which causes the deadly botulism illness; refrigeration will not assure the safety of garlic kept in oil. To reduce this risk, the oil should be refrigerated and used within one week. According to wikihow, the garlic immersed in oil should be stored in the freezer and not the fridge.[26] Commercially prepared oils are widely available. Manufacturers add acids and/or other chemicals to eliminate the risk of botulism in their products.[27] Two outbreaks of botulism related to garlic stored in oil have been reported.[28][29]

Garlic bulbs should be clean and white with a dried neck and outer skin and quite firm under pressure. They should be discarded if they are soft or spongy or show signs of mould.

In 1961, Chester Lilley from Kent in England was the first person to transform garlic into a pill form for storage. Although not widely accepted at the time for culinary uses, a capsulate solution for both the storage and simple dosing of garlic has become commonplace.

Historical use[edit]

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating at least as far back as when the Giza pyramids were built. Garlic is still grown in Egypt, but the Syrian variety is the kind most esteemed now (see Rawlinson's Herodotus, 2.125).

Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China dates back to 2000 BCE.[1]

It was consumed by ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors, and rural classes (Virgil, Ecologues ii. 11), and, according to Pliny the Elder (Natural History xix. 32), by the African peasantry. Galen eulogizes it as the "rustic's theriac" (cure-all) (see F. Adams' Paulus Aegineta, p. 99), and Alexander Neckam, a writer of the 12th century (see Wright's edition of his works, p. 473, 1863), recommends it as a palliative for the heat of the sun in field labor.

In the account of Korea's establishment as a nation, a tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung that they may become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, ordering them to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger gave up after about twenty days and left the cave. However, the bear remained and was transformed into a woman.

In his Natural History, Pliny gives an exceedingly long list of scenarios in which it was considered beneficial (N.H. xx. 23). Dr. T. Sydenham valued it as an application in confluent smallpox, and, says Cullen (Mat. Med. ii. p. 174, 1789), found some dropsies cured by it alone. Early in the 20th century, it was sometimes used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis or phthisis.

Harvesting garlic, from Tacuinum sanitatis, 15th century (Bibliothèque nationale)

Garlic was rare in traditional English cuisine (though it is said to have been grown in England before 1548) and has been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean Europe. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, The Superstitious Man). A similar practice of hanging garlic, lemon and red chili at the door or in a shop to ward off potential evil, is still very common in India.[30] According to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. (Pliny also stated garlic demagnetizes lodestones, which is not factual.)[31] The inhabitants of Pelusium, in lower Egypt (who worshiped the onion), are said to have had an aversion to both onions and garlic as food.

To prevent the plant from running to leaf, Pliny (N.H. xix. 34) advised bending the stalk downward and covering with earth; seeding, he observes, may be prevented by twisting the stalk (by "seeding", he most likely meant the development of small, less potent bulbs).

Nutrients and biomedical research[edit]

Garlic, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy623 kJ (149 kcal)
33.06 g
Sugars1 g
Dietary fiber2.1 g
0.5 g
6.36 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.2 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.11 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.7 mg
0.596 mg
Vitamin B6
1.235 mg
Folate (B9)
3 μg
Vitamin C
31.2 mg
Trace metals
181 mg
1.7 mg
25 mg
1.672 mg
153 mg
401 mg
17 mg
1.16 mg
Other constituents
Selenium14.2 μg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Raw garlic is an excellent source (> 20% of the Daily Value, DV per 100 g) of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and the dietary minerals, phosphorus, selenium and manganese, while it is a good source (10-19% DV) of protein, vitamin B5, thiamin, calcium, iron and zinc (table, right).

Garlic has been the subject of preliminary biomedical research to discover its potential health benefits, but no effects have been proven to date.[32] Animal studies, and some early research studies in humans, indicate possible cardiovascular benefits of garlic,[33][34] but other clinical trials have shown no effect.[32]

Some studies found garlic supplementation reduced accumulation of cholesterol on the vascular walls of animals,[35] and humans.[36][37][38]

Supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in human patients with high blood cholesterol in one preliminary clinical study,[39] but this finding has not been confirmed.[32]

A meta-analysis of clinical trials looking at the effects of garlic on serum lipid profiles found garlic had a minor effect to reduce serum total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but another study showed no effect.[32]

Allium sativum has been found to reduce platelet aggregation[40][41][42] and hyperlipidemia,[43][44] [45] indicating that consuming it is contraindicated for patients taking blood-thinning medications.[32]

Medicinal use[edit]

Although claimed to help prevent and treat the common cold, a review failed to find reliable evidence for its effectiveness.[46]

Garlic has a long history of use in practices of folk medicine,[32] and remains under study in the field of alternative medicine. The Cherokee used it as an expectorant for coughs and croup.[47] It was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II.[48]

Other uses[edit]

The sticky juice within the bulb cloves is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain.[2] An environmentally benign garlic-derived polysulfide product is approved for use in the European Union (under Annex 1 of 91/414) and the UK as a nematicide and insecticide, including for use for control of cabbage root fly and red mite in poultry.[49]

Garlic along with cinnamon is used as a fish and meat preservative, and displays antimicrobial property at temperatures as high as 120 degree Celsius; the combination can also be used to preserve fried and deep fried foods, and in the future might be used in an inner layer of plastic.[50][51][52][53][54]

Adverse effects and toxicology[edit]

Garlic is known for causing bad breath (halitosis), as well as causing sweat to have a pungent "garlicky" smell, which is caused by allyl methyl sulfide (AMS). AMS is a volatile liquid which is absorbed into the blood during the metabolism of garlic-derived sulfur compounds; from the blood it travels to the lungs[1] (and from there to the mouth, causing bad breath; see garlic breath) and skin, where it is exuded through skin pores. Washing the skin with soap is only a partial and imperfect solution to the smell. Studies have shown sipping milk at the same time as consuming garlic can significantly neutralize bad breath.[55] Mixing garlic with milk in the mouth before swallowing reduced the odor better than drinking milk afterward.[55] Plain water, mushrooms and basil may also reduce the odor; the mix of fat and water found in milk, however, was the most effective.[55]

The green, dry "folds" in the center of the garlic clove are especially pungent. The sulfur compound allicin, produced by crushing or chewing fresh garlic, produces other sulfur compounds: ajoene, allyl polysulfides, and vinyldithiins.[1] Aged garlic lacks allicin, but may have some activity due to the presence of S-allylcysteine. Allicin is released only by crushing or chewing raw garlic and cannot be formed from cooked garlic.

Some people suffer from allergies to garlic and other species of Allium.[1] Symptoms can include irritable bowel, diarrhea, mouth and throat ulcerations, nausea, breathing difficulties, and, in rare cases, anaphylaxis. Garlic-sensitive patients show positive tests to diallyl disulfide, allylpropyldisulfide, allylmercaptan and allicin, all of which are present in garlic. People who suffer from garlic allergies are often sensitive to many plants, including onions, chives, leeks, shallots, garden lilies, ginger, and bananas.

Garlic reduces platelet aggregation (as does aspirin),[32] indicating that consuming high quantities of garlic and garlic supplements may cause an increased risk of bleeding, particularly during pregnancy, after surgery or during childbirth.[56][57]

Several reports of serious burns resulting from garlic being applied topically for various purposes, including naturopathic uses and acne treatment, indicate care must be taken for these uses, usually testing a small area of skin using a very low concentration of garlic.[58] On the basis of numerous reports of such burns, including burns to children, topical use of raw garlic, as well as insertion of raw garlic into body cavities, is discouraged. In particular, topical application of raw garlic to young children is not advisable.[59] The side effects of long-term garlic supplementation are largely unknown, and no FDA-approved study has been performed. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding or menstrual irregularities.[57]

The safety of garlic supplements has not been determined for children, although some breastfeeding mothers have found their babies slow to feed and have noted a garlic odor coming from their baby when they have consumed garlic.[56][60]

Garlic may interact with warfarin, antiplatelets, saquinavir, antihypertensives, calcium channel blockers, quinolone family of antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, and hypoglycemic drugs, as well as other medications.[32][56]

Alliums might be toxic to cats or dogs.[61]

Spiritual and religious uses[edit]

Garlic has been regarded as a force for both good and evil. In Europe, many cultures have used garlic for protection or white magic, perhaps owing to its reputation as a potent preventative medicine. Central European folk beliefs considered garlic a powerful ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. To ward off vampires, garlic could be worn, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes.[62][63]

In Islam, it is forbidden for Muslims who have eaten raw garlic to pray in a mosque, since the odor could distract other Muslims during their prayer.[64] The Prophet Muhammad himself disliked eating garlic.[65] However, Muslims are allowed to eat garlic by cooking it first until the smell from the garlic dries out.[66]

In both Hinduism and Jainism, garlic is thought to stimulate and warm the body and to increase one's desires. Some devout Hindus generally avoid using garlic and the related onion in the preparation of foods, while less devout followers may only observe this for religious festivities and events. Followers of the Jain religion avoid eating garlic and onion on a daily basis.

A belief among some Hindus is that when Devas and Asuras fought for nectar during churning of the ocean of milk (Samudramathan) in the other world, two Asuras were able to get access to nectar and had some quantity in their mouths in stealthy ways. Knowing the Asuras' foul play, God cuffed the heads of those Asuras before they could swallow it and as a result nectar fell down on the earth from their mouths in drops which later grew as garlic; that is why the vegetable has such wonderful medicinal properties.

In some Buddhist traditions, garlic – along with the other five "pungent spices" – is understood to stimulate sexual and aggressive drives to the detriment of meditation practice.[67]


Alliin, a sulfur-containing compound found in garlic.

When crushed, Allium sativum yields allicin, an antibiotic[68] and antifungal compound (phytoncide) discovered by Chester J. Cavallito and colleagues in 1944. Fresh or crushed garlic also affords the sulfur-containing compounds alliin, ajoene, diallyl polysulfides, vinyldithiins, S-allylcysteine, and enzymes, B vitamins, proteins, minerals, saponins, flavonoids, and Maillard reaction products, which are not sulfur-containing compounds. Furthermore, a phytoalexin (allixin) was found, a nonsulfur compound with a γ-pyrone skeleton structure with antioxidant effects, antimicrobial effects,[69] antitumor promoting effects,[70] inhibition of aflatoxin B2 DNA binding,[70] and neurotrophic effects. Allixin showed an antitumor promoting effect in vivo, inhibiting skin tumor formation by TPA and DMBA initiated mice.[70] Analogs of this compound have exhibited antitumor promoting effects in in vitro experimental conditions. So allixin and/or its analogs may be useful compounds for cancer prevention.

The composition of the bulbs is approximately 84.09% water, 13.38% organic matter, and 1.53% inorganic matter, while the leaves are 87.14% water, 11.27% organic matter, and 1.59% inorganic matter.[71][72]

The phytochemicals responsible for the sharp flavor of garlic are produced when the plant's cells are damaged. When a cell is broken by chopping, chewing, or crushing, enzymes stored in cell vacuoles trigger the breakdown of several sulfur-containing compounds stored in the cell fluids (cytosol). The resultant compounds are responsible for the sharp or hot taste and strong smell of garlic. Some of the compounds are unstable and continue to react over time. Among the members of the onion family, garlic has by far the highest concentrations of initial reaction products, making garlic much more potent than onion, shallot, or leeks.[73] Although many humans enjoy the taste of garlic, these compounds are believed to have evolved as a defensive mechanism, deterring animals such as birds, insects, and worms from eating the plant.[74]

A large number of sulfur compounds contribute to the smell and taste of garlic. Allicin has been found to be the compound most responsible for the "hot" sensation of raw garlic. This chemical opens thermo-transient receptor potential channels that are responsible for the burning sense of heat in foods. The process of cooking garlic removes allicin, thus mellowing its spiciness.[74] Allicin, along with its decomposition products diallyl disulfide and diallyl trisulfide, are major contributors to the characteristic odor of garlic, while other allicin-derived compounds, such as vinyldithiins and ajoene show beneficial in vitro biological activity.[1] Because of its strong odor, garlic is sometimes called the "stinking rose". When eaten in quantity, garlic may be strongly evident in the diner's sweat and garlic breath the following day. This is because garlic's strong-smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized, forming allyl methyl sulfide. Allyl methyl sulfide (AMS) cannot be digested and is passed into the blood. It is carried to the lungs and the skin, where it is excreted. Since digestion takes several hours, and release of AMS several hours more, the effect of eating garlic may be present for a long time.[1]

The well-known phenomenon of "garlic breath" is allegedly alleviated by eating fresh parsley.[75] The herb is, therefore, included in many garlic recipes, such as pistou, persillade, and the garlic butter spread used in garlic bread. However, since the odor results mainly from digestive processes placing compounds such as AMS in the blood, and AMS is then released through the lungs over the course of many hours, eating parsley provides only a temporary masking. One way of accelerating the release of AMS from the body is the use of a sauna.

Because of the AMS in the bloodstream, it is believed by some to act as a mosquito repellent, but no clinically reported evidence suggests it is actually effective.[76]

Abundant sulfur compounds in garlic are also responsible for turning garlic green or blue during pickling and cooking. Under these conditions (i.e. acidity, heat) the sulfur-containing compound alliinase react with common amino acids to make pyrroles, clusters of carbon-nitrogen rings.[77][78] These rings can be linked together into polypyrrole molecules. Ring structures absorb particular wavelengths of light and thus appear colored. The two-pyrrole molecule looks red, the three-pyrrole molecule looks blue and the four-pyrrole molecule looks green (like chlorophyll, a tetrapyrrole). Like chlorophyll, the pyrrole pigments are safe to eat.[79]


Korea-Goheunggun-Garlic harvest and transport.jpg
Garlic being hand harvested, loaded onto a truck, and ready for transport to a distribution center in rural Goheung county, South Jeolla province, South Korea

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c d "AllergyNet — Allergy Advisor Find". Retrieved April 14, 2010. 
  3. ^ Ensminger, AH (1994). Foods & nutrition encyclopedia, Volume 1. CRC Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8493-8980-1. p. 750
  4. ^ Simonetti, G. (1990). Schuler, S., ed. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices. Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-671-73489-X. 
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