Fresh Garlic Substitutes

by Elizabeth Skipper | March 31st, 2015 | Ask the Chef

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t use garlic all that often in my cooking and was wondering about my different options. If I don’t have fresh garlic on hand, would either jarred, minced garlic or powdered garlic be an acceptable replacement? Is one of those better than the other?

Fresh is my choice for almost all recipes which call for garlic. The only exception that comes to mind is when you want the flavor but not the propensity minced fresh garlic has to burn, such as when seasoning meats or vegetables for roasting. When you want a dry rub for meats or a spice mixture for vegetables, dried garlic powder is actually preferable.

But if you don’t use garlic much, a full or partial head may sprout or dry out before you get around to finishing it. And even if it’s usable, it won’t be at its best – garlic cloves should be firm and juicy for optimum flavor. There are four choices I can think of for garlic products which will keep longer; those are garlic salt, garlic powder, granulated garlic, and minced garlic in a jar of oil.

I’m not a fan of garlic salt; I’d rather salt my food separately, so I don’t recommend that. Garlic powder is simply dried garlic which has been pulverized. I keep it on hand for the use I first mentioned, rubs and seasoning mixtures. It also comes in handy if I’ve forgotten to put garlic in the base for a chili or stew and have already added the liquid ingredients. Rather than get out another pan, and mince and sauté some garlic, it’s handy to just sprinkle in some garlic powder and keep going. Garlic powder and onion powder too, for that matter, therefore have a home in my spice cabinet.

Granulated garlic is minced, dried garlic. It can be reconstituted in hot water or broth and used whenever minced, fresh garlic is called for. While not ideal, it’s not a bad substitute. I’d keep it on hand if I didn’t always have fresh available.

Jarred, minced garlic in oil is not something I use, although I know other chefs who do. Allicin, one of the sulphur compounds in minced or crushed garlic, dissipates after a couple of days, along with a lot of the flavor. There’s also a valid concern about botulism growing in garlic stored in oil, so producers have to add preservatives to their product. Add to that the fact that often cheap, poor quality oil is used, and you have a product I don’t like. It always tastes funky to me.

There is one other possibility which I didn’t mention above, and it’s the only one which provides the option of sliced garlic. Next time you have leftover garlic, peel the remaining cloves and freeze them spread out on a plate for 20 or 30 minutes. Then put them in a small heavy duty plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Store in the freezer, taking out only what’s needed at a time. The cloves may not be as crisp as ones which have never been frozen, but the flavor will still be quite acceptable. Just be sure to use a strong freezer bag; you may even want to put that bag inside a plastic or glass container. Even whole garlic cloves give off an odor, and you don’t want other foods in the freezer to take on that smell.

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