How does fresh garlic compare to its processed cousins — minced garlic and garlic powder? Using Garlic Bread as a case study, we whether you can tell the difference if you cook with fresh garlic substitutes.
My friend Katharina is no slouch in the kitchen. She bakes Tartine-style bread and makes fluffy German potato dumplings all from scratch.
As you know, getting dinner ready in 30 minutes or less is hard enough. Strict requirements like only use fresh garlic and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano explains why many young professionals prefer eating take out after a long, hard-working day at the office.
RELATED: Learn about meal planning to reduce the stress of cooking.
This article is dedicated to you, Katharina. Let’s jump in to answer her question: Should you feel guilty about using fresh garlic substitutes?
“I don’t like using fresh garlic because peeling it is annoying,” Katharina told me. Even though there are videos online teaching you how to peel it using the bowls and shaking technique, Katharina has never found it to work well. Plus, she doesn’t like her fingers smelling garlicky.
Let’s dive into why you should even care about garlic substitutes.
Case study: Garlic Bread
Why do a taste test?
Conventional wisdom says that it’s always better to use fresh garlic. But there’s not any evidence to back it up. Instead of falling prey to an old wives’ tale, let’s run a taste test to discern the differences between the five forms of garlic.
To determine whether you can tell the difference, we picked garlic bread as our case study. Why?
Garlic bread features garlic as the dominant ingredient. Therefore, it should be easier to discern a difference in garlic flavors versus a recipe where garlic is one of many ingredients.
NOTE: If there’s enough interest from you dear readers, we may try another experiment in the future where garlic is one of many ingredients, like in a soup or stew. Leave a comment below to let us know if you’d like to us to run this taste test.
(In reality, we picked garlic bread because we love it. We’re going to have to eat so much of the same food for the experiment, so we prioritized our taste buds, of course)
How are we running the taste test?
There are 5 different garlic butters under consideration.
The “recipe” for garlic bread follows a pared-down version of the 5-Minute Garlic Bread recipe (the fresh garlic version and the garlic powder version). I avoided cilantro and Parmesan to avoid mixing strong flavors that may obfuscate the subtlety of garlic (if you can call garlic subtle).
What was the process for testing?
Alex and I tasted each garlic bread side by side in a blind taste test where we didn’t know which garlic butter we were sampling.
What are the results of the taste test?
Our preference by ranking:
Alex’s ranking from most to least favorite garlic bread (including comments from the taste test):
- Fresh garlic bulb: Really good what I expect from garlic bread.
Fresh garlic shapes
- Minced garlic: Very similar to D (garlic powder). Maybe I like it a little better
- Garlic powder: Closer to A (fresh garlic) not quite as fresh
- Peeled garlic: Tastes fresher than B but no sharp fresh garlic flavor
- Frozen crushed garlic: Definitely garlic flavor. Less fresh flavor
Anna’s ranking from most to least favorite garlic bread (including comments from the taste test):
- Fresh garlic bulb: Very bold garlic flavor with a touch of pungent “garlickiness”. It had a creaminess that the others lacked. I’m guessing this was the fresh garlic.
- Garlic powder: Garlic was pretty strong. Tastes like something on the fresher side. I’m guessing either the peeled garlic or the frozen crushed garlic
- Peeled garlic: Garlic flavor was less pungent. It still had plenty of garlic flavor but it was missing the creaminess I expect from fresh garlic. I’m guessing it’s the frozen crushed garlic
- Frozen crushed garlic: Tastes like garlic powder. Has the sweetness and fragrance of garlic powder. It lacks the punch I expect from garlic.
I guess garlic powder
- Minced garlic: Strong citric acid, sour lemony taste that overpowers the garlic. I still taste garlic. Guess it is the minced garlic
What did we conclude from the garlic bread taste test?
Alex & I chose fresh garlic as our favorite form of garlic. We were both surprised by how close garlic powder tasted to fresh garlic. Garlic powder was a close second best.
The fresh garlic had a pungent punch and a creaminess that the other forms of garlic lacked.
My least favorite was the minced garlic, which turned out to be Alex’s second-most favorite. I didn’t like how “lemony” the minced garlic tasted whereas Alex found the citric acid enhanced the flavors. The added “brightness” made him liked it second best.
My second-favorite was garlic powder (despite my bias against garlic powder). Before the taste test, I thought garlic powder had a different flavor – sweeter and caramelized. Yet, I admit that the garlic powder tasted almost as flavorful as the fresh garlic. This means I’ll likely use garlic powder more frequently as a direct substitute for fresh garlic.
Finally, neither of us cared for the frozen crushed garlic. It was Alex’s least-favorite pick. For me, it tasted like a different product. It had a duller garlic flavor. Could it be the additional canola oil that reduced the bite from the garlic?
Other than flavor, what factors did we evaluate?
In addition to taste, we wanted to rank the appearance, time, and hassle involved in the different forms of garlic. Alex believes that the time and inconvenience involved in preparing the ingredient should contribute to our likelihood of using that form of garlic.
The side-by-side view of the garlic butters indicates that fresh garlic, peeled garlic, and frozen crushed garlic look almost identical. The biggest difference is garlic powder which has a rich brown hue. Minced garlic is oxidized brown like a cut slice of apple sitting on the counter for too long. Minced garlic looks the least appetizing.
The fresh bulb of garlic was the most time-consuming to prepare. It required the most effort to peel the cloves. The garlic powder is the easiest to use, closely followed by minced garlic (unless I need a whole clove, in which case the peeled garlic was the most convenient).
That said, if you crush the garlic against your knife, fresh garlic is pretty quick to peel.
The frozen crushed garlic created the most hassle because it requires defrosting. That means frozen garlic could work well in a soup or stew because it can melt in the soup pot.
However, the frozen cube was a disaster in last night’s stir fry. The defrosting garlic cube purged water into the hot oil, causing hot oil to splatter all over the cooktop as well as my forearms. Using frozen garlic usually requires defrosting in the microwave, which is an extra step of inconvenience.
Bonus: Environmental Impact
I’d avoid the frozen garlic, and perhaps Trader Joe’s packaging of peeled, because of how wasteful the packaging is. It certainly produced a lot of plastic in the trash, without delivering a superior product.
What did we learn from our garlic taste testing experiment?
The most important lesson from this taste test is to ensure that your test buddy is well fed and watered. Otherwise, he will eat all the samples. Then, there will be no taste test to run.
The second most important lesson is discovering that fresh garlic was both Alex & my top choice. I conclude that you can tell the difference when using fresh garlic. It provides a superior flavor and texture the others lacked.
Does this mean we are eschewing all other types of garlic?
Probably not. We will likely continue using peeled garlic as a substitute for day-to-day stir fries because it’s faster. The peeled garlic, while not as flavorful, was still plenty pungent.
Not every dish needs to be the most optimized. But if I have time and am cooking a fancy meal, like Thanksgiving garlic mashed potatoes, then I’ll opt for the fresh garlic.
Now, you might think our findings are subjective and inconclusive because we have an n = 2. Maybe you would pick garlic powder as your top choice over the fresh garlic bulb. Do the taste test and share your results in the comments below.
If we can tell the differences in garlic bread, it’s likely that you could taste the difference in dishes like garlic popcorn and garlic noodles where garlic is the primary flavor. However, we should test to see if our preferences stay the same for dishes where garlic is one of many ingredients. Would fresh garlic still make a difference in ratatouille or shakshouka?
Knowing our findings, do you plan to abandon convenience and opt for fresh garlic in every dish you cook?