Garlic is a versatile ingredient of the onion family that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Whether you’re looking to add flavor to your pasta sauce or jazz up your marinade game, garlic is a great way to do it. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of garlic – including how to shop for it, store it, and cook with it. We’ll even cover my favorite recipes, like garlic butter sauce, let’s dive in!
The common recipe nomenclature of ‘garlic clove’ refers to one of the smaller sections surrounded by a thinner skin that will come off of the entire bulb. The bowl below is full of whole cloves of garlic. The individual cloves can come from whole bulbs or be purchased pre-peeled.
Garlic is a flowering plant in the Allium family. Other well known allium vegetables include onions and leeks. It is believed to have originated in Central Asia, where it has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries.
Garlic is a popular ingredient in cuisine all over the world. It has a strong flavor that can be overpowering when eaten raw but mellows out when cooked. The long history in many cultures means that there are several myths about garlic. Many of these are based on the effects of garlic’s smell which some find odorous especially in large quantities, for example, the smell is a common reason that garlic protects against vampires who are said to have a heightened sense of smell.
Garlic is known to have a variety of health and medicinal properties, including:
- Fighting inflammation
- Boosting the immune system to reduce the occurrence of ailments like the common cold
- Reducing high cholesterol levels
- Reducing blood pressure levels to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Reduce heavy metal toxicity
- Many other suspected benefits like a decreased risk dementia and other chronic diseases, but these haven’t been proven with scientific references yet
Garlic is 59% water and the rest of it is made up of 33% carbohydrates, 6% protein, 2% dietary fiber, and less than 1% fat.
Normal garlic intake levels won’t be a major source of vitamins and minerals at the typical serving size. Although it contains vitamins C and B6 and manganese and phosphorous you’d have to eat a lot of it for it to be relevant to your diet.
China makes almost 3/4 of the world’s garlic, but if you want to grow garlic in your own garden it does well in most mild climates (USDA Zones 4-9) in loose dry soil. It’s a hardy plant so it’s a great way to start your own herb garden.
Garlic may lead to bad breath and body odor if consumed in large quantities. The strong smell from the characteristic odor comes from consuming high doses of garlic, however, the amount necessary for each person hasn’t been determined in with scientific evidence in human studies, if this worries you consume only a little garlic at a time.
If you don’t want to grow your own garlic, then you’ll probably be buying it at the supermarket like me. Garlic at the supermarket comes in three main types.
- Heads of Garlic
- Pre-Peeled Garlic
- Garlic Substitutions
When shopping for garlic heads, look for bulbs that are firm and free of blemishes. Avoid garlic bulbs that are soft, this means there is likely spoilage underneath the skin. Fresh garlic cloves should feel heavy and firm. When you buy them like this they will last 1 – 2 months when stored in a cool dry pantry.
If you opt for pre-peeled garlic, only buy what you need to use relatively soon. Pre-peeled garlic will not last as long, but if you use a lot of garlic and go through it quickly it’s more convenient and will taste just as good. The only downside to pre-peeled garlic is that you have to store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator, but if you don’t mind that it’s perfect.
Garlic substitutions, like garlic powder, garlic paste, and prechopped garlic aren’t recommended because the garlic will start to lose its flavor after it’s chopped. This means you’ll never be able to tell exactly how strong the garlic will taste so judging recipes is much more difficult. If you do opt for this option for garlic flavor, ignore the amount in the recipe and just go off your own taste, but make sure to add garlic to whatever you’re cooking slowly so the taste isn’t overpowering!
The three common ways to use garlic you’ll see over and over again in recipes are sliced, smashed, and minced.
- Use sliced garlic for rapid cooking on high heat for a bitter taste (see below). Slicing up garlic is best done with a sharp Chef’s Knife.
- Smashed garlic is excellent for slow cooking to bring out garlic’s sweet flavor profile. You can smash one clove with anything on hand, the side of a chef’s knife, the bottom of a pan or plate. Just be careful, the juices from garlic are sticky.
- Minced garlic is called for often and you can use a zester or a knife or if you use garlic all the time, a garlic press might be a good option.
The taste of garlic will change depending on how you cook it, so you need to know these garlic basics so you can adjust recipes or improvise on the fly.
- Raw garlic is very strong and pungent. Use it sparingly and where the flavor will be mixed with other ingredients like in marinades.
- Slow cooking garlic over medium heat brings out sweeter aromas, much like caramelized onions. This works well with smashed garlic that you can slow cook in olive oil to make a garlic oil as the base for a sauce or to flavor a pan to cook in.
- Cooking garlic on high will take away a lot of the pungency from raw garlic but will leave the bitter oniony taste which can be good on certain things, but only a little.
Learning about garlic butter sauces was the reason I did a deep dive into garlic, and I can say it was worth it. So let’s put it all together and learn how to make your own garlic butter sauce!
- Melt over low heat in a saucepan or a non-stick pan if you don’t have a saucepan. How much butter you need will depend on what you’re making and for how many people. 1 tablespoon per person is a good rule of thumb.
- Add in the garlic for slow cooking to bring out the sweeter flavors of garlic. Heat over medium heat until the garlic starts to smell nutty, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add in your complimentary fresh herbs to the sauce depending on what you’re serving. I love rosemary, lemon juice, and fresh parsley. Cook for 1 minute more.
- Remove your garlic butter sauce from heat and serve immediately. I recommend it over almost anything, especially shrimp pasta!
Garlic should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you’re storing garlic heads, make sure to cut off the top of the garlic head so that the cloves are exposed and then store it like that. This will help keep them from drying out. Garlic should last 1 – 2 months like this.
If you’re buying pre-peeled garlic, store it in a sealed container in the fridge and use it within 1 – 2 weeks.
For garlic substitutions, follow the manufacturers’ guidelines.