Allicin (diallylthiosulfinate) is a defence molecule from garlic (Allium sativum
L.) with a broad range of biological activities. Allicin is produced upon tissue damage from the non-proteinogenic amino acid alliin (S-allylcysteine sulfoxide) in a reaction that is catalyzed by the enzyme alliinase. Current understanding of the allicin biosynthetic pathway will be presented in this review. Being a thiosulfinate, allicin is a reactive sulfur species (RSS) and undergoes a redox-reaction with thiol groups in glutathione and proteins that is thought to be essential for its biological activity. Allicin is physiologically active in microbial, plant and mammalian cells. In a dose-dependent manner allicin can inhibit the proliferation of both bacteria and fungi or kill cells outright, including antibiotic-resistant strains like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
(MRSA). Furthermore, in mammalian cell lines, including cancer cells, allicin induces cell-death and inhibits cell proliferation. In plants allicin inhibits seed germination and attenuates root-development. The majority of allicin’s effects are believed to be mediated via redox-dependent mechanisms. In sub-lethal concentrations, allicin has a variety of health-promoting properties, for example cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering effects that are advantageous for the cardio-vascular system. Clearly, allicin has wide-ranging and interesting applications in medicine and (green) agriculture, hence the detailed discussion of its enormous potential in this review. Taken together, allicin is a fascinating biologically active compound whose properties are a direct consequence of the molecule’s chemistry.