In my cooking, garlic is as necessary as salt, pepper, and oil. It is essential, a critical element in the alchemy of making food. But not all garlic is created equal; though substituting jarred for fresh or salt for powder may feel like a harmless shortcut in the moment, it can hurt you in the long run.
Each form of garlic has its own purpose. Some forms, like garlic powder or salt, or even jarred garlic, triumph in convenience. Their flavor will never compare to fresh garlic, but that doesn’t mean they lack in benefits or potential. For the ultimate garlic experience, here’s what you need to know:
Fresh Garlic vs. Jarred Garlic
The difference here is pretty straightforward: One comes in a jar, already chopped for you, while the other is a clump of cloves you’ve got to peel and mince or slice up yourself. And unless you prefer your garlic with substantially less flavor, fresh garlic always tastes better.
In addition to a bolder aromatic appeal, fresh garlic also has a hint of heat, particularly when it’s raw. Many stores also carry cloves that have already been peeled, which are also convenient but don't last long. Chopped garlic, minced garlic, and crushed garlic all distribute flavor in different ways. The best method to use all depends on how quickly you need to release garlic’s flavor. If you’re looking for a milder flavor that’ll release over time, go for chopped garlic. For something more intense and immediate, like a marinade, mince it or crush it with a garlic press. Some recipes, like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, don’t want you chopping or mincing that garlic at all.
However, mincing garlic by hand or with a garlic press doesn’t work for everyone, whether it’s physically or they’re just crunched for time. In that sense, jarred garlic is a godsend. Jarred garlic also lasts much longer than freshly minced or chopped garlic. (In the grand scheme of things, 18 months beats 10 days, especially if you don’t constantly use garlic. Fresh garlic won’t even last that long if you’re storing it incorrectly.) However, you pay for that convenience with a far less pronounced taste.
If you’re substituting jarred garlic in a recipe, the generally accepted rule of thumb is to use ½ teaspoon for every clove called for. But if you want a little more flavor, feel free to up that amount. To strike a happy medium of taste and convenience, make your own jarred garlic by pulsing peeled cloves in a food processor and bottling it up with a little olive oil. You can even store it in a recycled garlic jar. Or, you can opt for frozen garlic, like these cubes from Trader Joe’s. If you need a mincing method that’s easier on your hands, try using a vegetable chopper.
Fresh Garlic vs. Garlic Powder
Garlic powder, which is made from ground and dried garlic bulbs, has more advantages than the obvious convenience factor. If garlic isn’t the star of your dish (Think soups, stews, and sauces, or dry rubs for meat or vegetables), then garlic powder is a sufficient option in a pinch. It’s also ideal in foods where you want garlicky flavor dispersed more widely, like in meatloaf or French Dip Pizza, or in applications you’re trying to keep added moisture down, such as a creamy dip. That being said, although they share ingredients, garlic powder and fresh garlic have strikingly different flavors. When you really want to impart the vibrant and aromatic essence of garlic, you'll need to go fresh. However, if you're low on time or the fresh stuff, half a teaspoon of garlic powder is the rough equivalent of one fresh clove.
Garlic Powder vs. Garlic Salt
Lastly, we have garlic salt, which is only identical to garlic powder in appearance. Garlic salt is a mixture of garlic powder and table salt, making it a seasoning salt rather than a pure, dry seasoning. That also means the garlic flavor is diluted. (However, that doesn’t make garlic salt a bad thing!) If you prefer a milder flavor or just don’t have any other forms of garlic, it’s okay to use garlic salt instead of powder: just know that garlic salt and garlic powder aren’t interchangeable, and that you’ll need to hold back on any additional salt the recipe calls for.