On cooking shows, chefs make quick work of chopping garlic for their dishes. Sometimes their hands move so quickly that an average cook can be intimidated by the technique. So intimidated that they turn to one of the many convenient alternatives offered in the supermarket. At Consumer Reports we wanted to know if these home cooks were sacrificing flavor by using dried, frozen or other types of garlic so our sensory experts tasted each variety—straight up.
In our kitchens, the tasters tried eight types of garlic including fresh. First they tasted the garlic alone then again when it was mixed in a cold dip and hot mashed potatoes. The fresh garlic won every taste test but some of the others had their merits. Garlic powder was fine but mild in both the dip and potatoes and the jarred minced garlic was okay. Freeze-dried garlic tasted fine in the potatoes but added a bitter taste to the dip and the frozen garlic cubes had some off tastes. Some of the varieties had additives such as oil, salt or citric acid, that changed the flavor or mouth feel. And like fresh garlic, the alternatives have to be stored correctly to retain their flavor. (Full results here.)
In addition to the trade-off you’ll make in flavor, some of the substitutes actually cost more than fresh garlic. So it may pay to learn a few secrets from the chefs on how to deftly chop garlic. In a step-by-step slide show on the Saveur website, Jacques Pépin shows his technique, which includes smashing the garlic head with the heel of his hand until it breaks apart, then using the flat side of a chef’s knife to crush it. When he chops the garlic he rocks the knife back and forth to make a coarse paste. But even then you probably won’t want to eat it straight up.
—Mary H.J. Farrell