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Garlic Substitutes

Is there a good shortcut for peeling and prepping fresh garlic? As it turns out, there are a few.


Published Sept. 14, 2020. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 14: Italian-American Comforts

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What You Need To Know

I love garlic, but I hate preparing it. The papery skins get everywhere, it takes finesse to perfectly mince the tiny cloves, and I find it nearly impossible to rid my hands of that garlicky smell. I know I’m not alone. There are a variety of presses, peelers, and tools available to make prepping garlic easier, and supermarket shelves are filled with products, from prepeeled cloves to dried and powdered garlic, that aim to shortcut the process. We’ve already given careful consideration to garlic tools, but not to supermarket substitutes for fresh garlic. How do they really compare with fresh cloves? 

To find out, we tried seven different products: prepeeled cloves, frozen garlic cubes, refrigerated garlic paste, shelf-stable garlic paste, and three different types of jarred minced garlic. Since we use dried garlic and garlic powder differently than we use fresh garlic—usually in rubs and spice mixtures—we didn’t include them in this testing. For consistency, we used the instructions on the packaging of each of the products in our lineup to determine the amounts that equaled one clove (one product didn’t provide instructions), and then we used each of them to make vinaigrette and aglio e olio (a simple pasta with garlic and oil). We then compared the versions we made with the substitutes to versions we made with fresh garlic that we peeled and prepped ourselves. 

Zeroing In on Flavor

The flavor of fresh garlic can be as changeable as a chameleon, ranging from sharp and spicy to sweet and mellow. However, we were surprised to find that the dominant flavors of many of the products were neither punchy nor robust and were instead described by tasters as being “acidic” and “tart.” A “sour” flavor was detected by some tasters, to varying degrees, in five out of the seven products we tried, and it was particularly notable in the pastas we made with the jarred minced garlics, which seemed to have nary a hint of garlic flavor at all. 

We looked at ingredient labels and found that all five of the products that tasters deemed “sour” contained chemical preservatives such as citric acid or phosphoric acid. These preservatives keep shelf-stable foods safe by acidifying them, and they most likely produced the tartness our tasters noted. And while this acidity was prominent in the pastas we made with them, it was undetectable in the vinaigrettes that contained a hefty amount of tart lemon juice. Still, these five products had “weak” garlic flavor no matter how we sampled them. That said, we did find two substitutes with the pungent, spicy flavor we expect of fresh garlic: prepeeled cloves and frozen garlic cubes. Why were thes...

Everything We Tested

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