Garlic is the flavor backbone of almost everything we cook. Have you ever been curious why some recipes call for whole garlic, some for minced garlic, and some for garlic paste instead of something else? Here's what we think!
Garlic bulbs contain a sulfuric compound just like onions, shallots, and other members of the tasty allium family. In the wild, this acts as a defense to ward away animals. In our kitchens, the same sulfur compounds transform our food into aromatic, mouthwatering dishes - though raw garlic is still a bit too potent for many of us to enjoy!
The sulfur compounds are released as soon as we cut into a bulb of garlic and expose the inside surfaces to oxygen in the air. More chopping will release more of the compounds, so it follows that minced garlic and garlic paste will have the strongest taste.
We use garlic paste and minced garlic in dishes where we want a strong garlic flavor permeating the dish. The small little pieces will also dissolve into the other ingredients over long cooking, leaving sauces smooth and evenly seasoned.
Whole garlic is at the other end of the spectrum. Since the sulfur compounds are never forcefully released, whole garlic will simply add a subtle and slightly sweet garlic flavor to dishes. Crushing the cloves releases a little of the sulfur, making the garlic flavor a little stronger. Roughly chopped garlic dials up the flavor yet again.
Changing how finely you chop your garlic is one way to control the garlic flavor in your dish. You don't necessarily have to follow the recipe! Next time you make a stir-fry or pasta sauce, experiment with different levels of garlic intensity and see if you can tell the difference!
Do you love strong garlic flavor in your dishes, or do you like it more toned down?
Related: Food Science: Help for Garlic Breath!
(Image: Flickr member Muffet licensed under Creative Commons)