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Garlic is a fragrant, strong aromatic that we all know and love. We also all know that peeling and chopping fresh garlic cloves can be a pain. Peeling it is a fiddley business and then once you get it peeled, it gets sticky and ends up all over your fingers and knife as you chop it. Is preparing fresh garlic really worth it, or can we just use the stuff in the jar? I prepared noodles cooked with four garlic preparations (fresh chopped, frozen chopped, a refrigerated jar, and a shelf stable jar) and Mark and I did some science! Prepare yourself for a taste test.
The prevailing thought on garlic seems to be that fresh chopped garlic is better all of the time. Once you rupture the cell walls by cutting the garlic, a myriad of aromatic compounds are released. These compounds can degrade during processing and storage. Anthony Bourdain had very strong opinions about this very subject, as he did many things. That’s why we loved him. He said:
“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime…Please, treat your garlic with respect…Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”Anthony Bourdain
Now, I think you deserve to eat garlic no matter how you feel about the jarred variety, but let’s find out if the fresh stuff really is the best. My hypothesis going into this was that fresh garlic would taste better, but not drastically so.
The Garlicky Contenders
The four types of garlic that I tested are:
- Fresh chopped garlic. I took cloves and chopped them.
- Frozen chopped garlic. I Blitzed a whole bunch of garlic cloves in a food processor, then scooped 1 teaspoon portions onto parchment paper and froze them.
- Refrigerated minced garlic that I bought at the Asian market. This has never been heated.
- Shelf stable garlic in a jar from the grocery store. This has been packed in oil and canned, which cooks whatever is inside.
The Taste Test
For this garlic taste test, I prepared four bowls of pasta the exact same way.
- First, I cooked some pasta in salted water, drained it, and set it aside.
- Next, I heated a small pan over medium heat, added two Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then added one teaspoon of one garlic preparation.
- I cooked the garlic for a few seconds, then added 1/2 cup of cooked pasta. I cooked everything together for ten to fifteen seconds, then removed the garlicky pasta to a small bowl.
- I repeated this process four times, and labeled each bowl, flipping the label over so it couldn’t be read.
- My husband, Mark tasted each bowl of pasta, gave his notes, and picked his favorite.
- I did the same, although the test was not blind to me.
Here is a video of the whole test:
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Peeling and chopping fresh garlic is going to give you the very best result in your finished dishes. The pasta made with fresh, chopped garlic cloves had a more pleasant, complex flavor with floral notes. I get that peeling and chopping garlic can be a pain, but it is, in fact, worth it. Luckily, I do have a few time and labor saving tips for you.
My least favorite step of garlic preparation is peeling the blasted cloves. I don’t feel that the garlic in my local grocery store is particularly fresh. It’s very hard to separate the cloves from the head and peel them, even when I crush them with my knife. My favorite work-around is buying a bag of fresh, PEELED cloves from my local Asian market. Smiths (Kroger) also sells peeled whole cloves. All I have to do is take as many cloves as I need, chop chop, and toss them in the skillet! I find that the garlic cloves from the Asian market taste fresher than the ones from Smiths, but either work.
Frozen Chopped Garlic
If I know I won’t be able to use all the cloves before they go bad, I toss them in the food processor, scoop out one teaspoon blobs, and freeze them. This method won second place in our taste test. It’s good, it’s convenient, and it keeps those fresh peeled cloves from going to waste. A lot of the aromatic properties are also preserved this way.
In case you’re in the market, I use this mini food processor.
Refrigerated Minced Garlic
Additionally, I think that the jar of refrigerated garlic is a viable option. I get it. It’s 6 o’clock, dinner isn’t started yet, everyone’s getting hangry, and you either have to make something in 20 minutes, or order pizza. Again. Don’t let one ingredient keep you from cooking altogether. If you can’t bear the thought of peeling and chopping garlic, get that jar out of the fridge!
The minced garlic from the refrigerated section came in third in our taste test. It had a slightly sour taste to it, but was worlds better than the shelf stable version. I will probably continue to keep a jar in my fridge for dinner emergencies.
Shelf Stable Jarred Garlic
The only garlic preparation I cannot recommend in good conscience is the shelf stable garlic sitting in the jar at the grocery store. Friends, this failed the taste test. Badly. There was an acrid, sour taste to it that was very unpleasant, and not at all garlicky. It was really, really unpleasant. I’m with Mr. Bourdain on this one, except that if you choose to use it, I still think you’re a good person. 😉
Try These Recipes!
Put your new garlic knowledge to work by making these recipes:
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Thank you so much for being here! I appreciate you. Go forth and wield your new garlic prowess!