substitutes for fresh garlic
Credit: Image: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn

We Tried 5 Shortcut Substitutes for Fresh Garlic — And There Was a Clear Winner

updated Mar 19, 2020
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When I married into an Italian-American family, I basically vowed to cook excessively with garlic for the rest of my days. I am hardly complaining: I was already very pro-garlic well before I met my husband, but my new in-laws gave me a whole new appreciation for the allium.

I didn’t grow up with fresh garlic, though. All I knew was the jarred, minced garlic and the dried, powdered form until I started to cook for myself. It was then that I realized the very best flavor really does come from the fresh stuff — even if it meant peeling, mincing, and dealing with stinky hands.

However, as life has gotten busier, there are time I’ve returned to the convenience of garlic substitutes and shortcuts. And now, with coronavirus shortages, I know some folks are having a hard time finding even a single clove left at the grocery store.

Today, there are even more options than there were when I was a kid — and I’ve been kind of curious. What’s really the best choice when you are short on time, can’t find fresh garlic, or just don’t want to bother with garlic skins and knife skills? A few weeks ago, I tested them all to find out. While I still found nothing compares to fresh garlic, one substitute did actually get quite close. This knowledge might help you these days or well beyond.

How I Tested for the Best Garlic Substitutes

Choosing the Garlic Substitutes: After scouring grocery stores and the internet, I selected the five options that seemed to be the most popular and readily available. I found at least one brand of each of these options at every grocery store I went to.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Testing the Garlic Substitutes: For consistency, I tested each garlic substitute using the same recipe: this simple garlic-laden spaghetti (pictured). I followed instructions on the packaging of each (though sometimes I had to check the product website) to ensure I used the correct amount of garlic substitute in place of fresh garlic.

Rating the Garlic Substitutes: I rated each method of a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing perfect fresh-garlic mimicry. In addition to flavor, I also factored in ease of use.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Garlic Powder

My uncle makes the best garlic bread in all the land — and he uses garlic powder. Because it’s made from dehydrated garlic, though, its flavor is a lot different than that of fresh garlic. It’s sweet and less biting than fresh garlic and has a lightly roasted flavor from the dehydrating process. That makes it pretty hard for it to be a direct substitute for fresh garlic.

That said, garlic powder definitely has solid reason to be in your spice collection. It’s a good choice if you’re making a dry rub or spice blend. A few shakes can also jazz up popcorn. Or, of course, you can slather butter on bread, sprinkle it generously with the powder, and toast it to make my uncle’s garlic bread. I gave garlic powder a 3/10 because, while it does have its place, the taste is a far cry from real garlic.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Jarred Minced Garlic

A whiff of minced garlic straight from the jar takes me straight back to 1994. It’s a wildly convenient product because it’s inexpensive and a jar keeps in the fridge for what feels like forever — but it just doesn’t deliver on flavor. Sure, it tastes vaguely like garlic, but that garlic flavor is muted, so you need more of it to get the same level of flavor. It also kind of tastes like it’s been sitting in a jar for too long because, well, it has.

It does work, though, in a pinch. I rated jarred minced garlic a 4/10, because its flavor is just not fully there but it’s hard to argue with its ease of use.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Garlic Paste

Oddly, I remember when garlic paste first arrived in grocery stores because my dad immediately got on board to try it out. (It quickly replaced our jar of minced garlic.) Garlic paste is more concentrated than fresh garlic, so you don’t need to use much to get a good amount of flavor. It still doesn’t taste quite as vibrant as fresh cloves, though, and I don’t love that it contains salt and oil — I’d rather add that to whatever I am cooking myself.

Overall, garlic paste is an easy choice when you need finely minced or grated garlic for things like soups, dressings, and marinades. I rated garlic paste a 6/10; while I appreciate its heady flavor, it loses points because it still doesn’t have quite the same vibrancy as fresh garlic, and I am not a fan of the salt and oil inside the tube.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. Fresh Pre-Peeled Garlic

As irritating as the thin, flaky skin around fresh garlic cloves can be, it’s there for a reason: It helps protect the cloves from bumps and bruises while making sure they don’t dry out and lose their flavor. Fresh pre-peeled garlic does save you the annoyance of getting the skins stuck to your fingers, but it could come at the cost of dried out cloves with little flavor. They can also also be bit more expensive than fresh garlic heads. If you’re fine forking over the extra money to save you one part of the hassle of fresh garlic (you’re still going to have to mince or chop them), then try to buy a package that’s vacuum-sealed so that the cloves aren’t dried out before you even get them home.

I rated pre-peeled garlic an 8/10 because it’s as close to regular fresh garlic as garlic substitutes come. However, you’ll still need to break out your cutting board and if you don’t buy a vacuum-sealed package, you risk losing flavor.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Frozen Garlic Cubes

My colleague Christine shared her love for these Dorot cubes years ago on Kitchn, but I never bothering cooking with them until now. The cubes are essentially crushed garlic that’s mixed with a bit of oil, lemon juice, and salt then flash frozen. The freezing process results in a substitute that has the most vibrant flavor of the bunch. The cubes are also perfectly portioned so that one cube equals one fresh clove of garlic. I am still not a fan of the added oil and salt, but it’s much less than the amount in the garlic paste and hardly noticeable.

Even though I’ll continue to cook with fresh garlic the majority of the time, I definitely plan to keep a tray of these in my freezer to use as a quick backup for when I’ve run out or I’m not in the mood to reach for a knife. That’s why I rated them a 9/10: They easily deliver the most flavor for the convenience out of all the substitutes I tried.

What’s the Best Substitute for Fresh Garlic?

After cooking and eating my way through lots of garlicky pasta, I found frozen garlic cubes to be the closest in flavor to fresh garlic while also being the easiest to use. Each of the substitutes I tried, though, definitely have their place in the kitchen and can all work in various capacities. I think it’s well-worth keeping at least one or two on hand even if you, like me, are devoted to the real deal.

Do you have a garlic substitute that you reach for? Discuss in the comments below!