The Flavorful Reason You Should Think Twice About Buying Jarred Garlic

"A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet...", or so Shakespeare said, and maybe that's true. But a bulb of garlic minced and jarred would not taste quite so good as fresh garlic, and that's just a fact. However, jarred garlic, sitting so conveniently on the grocery store shelf is undeniably tempting. For home cooks, jarred garlic can save a lot of time while cooking. But, suppose you want to get the most flavor out of your dish. In that case, there is no replacement for fresh garlic, and there's a scientific reason behind fresh garlic's stronger flavor. 

Garlic, sometimes called the stinking rose, is well-known for its pungent odor. But you'll notice that garlic's signature scent isn't so noticeable when picking out a head or whole bulb of fresh garlic. It's only when garlic is chopped that it gains its odorous quality; that's because garlic's scent, and flavor, are impacted by cutting and chopping. When you cut into garlic, you damage the cell walls of the plant, and in doing so, release sulfid transforming enzymes which make garlic's flavor more pungent. However, this intensity dissipates over time, and the longer your crushed or minced garlic sits, the less intense the flavors become. As a result, jarred garlic has a more dulled flavor too. So, if you want to make the most out of your garlic, fresh is definitely the way to go.

Making the most of your bulbs

Now, we've already established that chopping garlic can impact its flavor. But did you know that your method of chopping your garlic can also impact its flavor? Cutting into garlic breaks down its cell walls and creates that pungent smell and taste we all know so well, and the more you cut, the more cell walls you break down. Therefore, the more finely you chop or mince your garlic, the more powerful your garlic's flavor will be.

For example, minced garlic will feature the strongest taste and smell, while sliced garlic is less pungent. Meanwhile, a whole bulb of garlic, unchopped, will feature a more mild flavor, and is great for simmering in oil, to bring out a mild, garlicy taste. In fact, making a garlic confit can be the perfect way of enjoying a more mild garlic taste. And spreading a bulb of confit garlic onto bread can make for a delicious, buttery treat. Meanwhile, finely minced garlic, cooked in oil to subdue its sharp flavor, makes the perfect base for your signature red sauce. And sliced garlic can make the perfect addition to pickle brines or soups. How you cut your garlic does matter as it turns out, so next time you're reading over a new recipe, make sure to pay careful attention to how the recipe instructs you to cut (or not cut) your garlic.

Don't knock convenience

With all of that being said, jarred garlic can be a helpful tool for many cooks. The product is popular for a reason, after all. For many people, who find themselves too busy, or for whom the precise and painstaking business of mincing garlic is difficult, jarred garlic is absolutely the best option. It provides a convenient shortcut that can yield delicious results if handled correctly. 

But if convenience is something you're looking for there are other preparations of garlic that you can use without the painstaking work of peeling the skin and cutting the bulb. Pre-minced or pre-crushed frozen garlic cubes, for example, are perfect to pop in soups or for use in sauces and can last for weeks in your freezer. Beyond frozen or jarred garlic, you can also purchase pre-peeled fresh garlic cloves from many grocery stores. This type of garlic is sold in large bags or plastic containers and represents a sort of happy medium between jarred and fresh garlic bulbs; they free cooks from the annoyance of separating and peeling garlic bulbs and provide the stronger flavor of whole, fresh garlic, but you will have to chop, mince, confit, or otherwise prepare your garlic.  

Of course, it's your kitchen, and therefore your choice as to which kind of garlic you use. Whether you opt for convenience over flavor or vice versa — either is a perfectly respectable choice — just make sure to store and serve your garlic responsibly.