Even if you aren’t a vampire, there’s no shame in shying away from the intense flavor of garlic. These aromatic bulbs produce potent compounds that can overpower other flavors and linger for hours after consumption. Luckily, you can minimize garlic’s pungent flavor by selecting mild varieties, using it quickly after purchasing and preparing it strategically.
Garlic comes in many different varieties, with varying degrees of pungency. Of the most common types available in the United States, Mexican and Italian garlic are on the milder side. Their pinkish skins distinguish them from the sharper, white-skinned American variety. Elephant garlic, which is actually a member of the leek family, has giant cloves with an even milder flavor. With any variety, look for cloves that are large and plump, since small cloves tend to be more assertive.
Fresh Is Best
Store the garlic in cool, dry conditions and use it as quickly as you can. As time passes, the cloves slowly become dry and the flavors become more concentrated. Because producers typically harvest garlic from late summer to late fall, it is usually fresher and milder during this season. Storing garlic in the refrigerator reduces the distinct garlic flavor, but it also develops a more onion-like flavor that can still pack a powerful punch.
Kill the Germs
Older garlic often develops a green germ, or tiny sprout, in the center of the clove. You can look for the germ in the center of the clove by slicing the garlic clove in half lengthwise. The germ tends to have a bitter or spicy flavor, so removing it helps reduce the garlic’s harshness. After halving the garlic clove, use the tip of a paring knife to pick it out.
Skip the Press
Minimize damage to the garlic’s cell walls to significantly temper its flavor. When an enzyme in the cell walls is exposed to oxygen, it produces a compound called allicin that is responsible for garlic’s sharp, sulfurous qualities. Accordingly, the more the garlic is cut or smashed, the more allicin it produces. Cook with whole or sliced garlic rather than crushing the clove through a garlic press. If it must be minced, use it immediately to limit its exposure oxygen.
Bring the Heat
Heat deactivates the enzyme that produces allicin in garlic, so cooking garlic soon after it is cut is an effective way to tame its flavor. To deactivate the enzyme, the garlic must reach a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even for raw dishes, such as hummus, you can ease the garlic flavor by briefly heating the garlic in boiling water or the microwave before incorporating it with the other ingredients.
- The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron
- On Food and Cooking; Harold McGee
- The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia; Rebecca Wood
- Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images