I have a recipe for Tomotillo & Green Chili soup that calls for one diced onion to be sautéed for 3 minutes prior to adding the four diced garlic cloves all of which is then cooked for an additional one minute. After this, the liquids and most of the other ingredients of the soup are added.

(FWIW; I personally don't feel like this is long enough to cook either of these, but that's the recipe...)

Is there difference in flavour development that I could expect by following the recipe as opposed to adding both the onion and the garlic at the same time?

BTW, I can rule out texture as a reason for this as the whole lot is hit with an immersion blender after cooking.

  • 2
    You cook the onion for 4x as long as the garlic. That's not a small difference.
    – Chris H
    Mar 10, 2016 at 6:43
  • The garlic seems about right, depending on how hot and what effect you want in the end, but I'd be surprised if 3 minutes was enough for the onion. Surely you want properly softened onion for that nice mellow flavour in a soup! Not uncommon though, a lot of recipe writers seem to think you can adequately soften an onion (or worse, caramelise it) in only a scant handful of minutes. Mar 10, 2016 at 14:07

1 Answer 1


This is standard in most recipes. Onions take a lot longer to cook and become aromatic. Garlic does it within 30 seconds to a minute. Three minutes is a long time for garlic. I promise you, you don't want burned garlic in your soup.

When you add the remainder of the ingredients, particularly the liquids, you reduce the direct heat that the garlic is subjected to and prevent it from burning.

Here's some supporting info from The Kitchn:

Early in our cooking career and for a long time after, we assumed that you needed to cook garlic as long as its cousin, the onion. Our results were spotty: sometimes it was ok, sometimes we picked burned bits out of our dinner. It wasn't until we got serious about cooking that we learned another way...

Whether they're being used in a quick stir fry or as the base for a soup or sauce, both onions and garlic need to be cooked at least little to get rid of their raw bite. However, while onions benefit from a longer cooking time, garlic will quickly burn and become acrid if cooked the same way.

Garlic usually does best if it's cooked quickly and over medium heat. About thirty seconds will do the trick. This is just enough time to cook off the rawness, allow the flavor to mellow into the dish, and let the aroma to hit its peak. You'll know it's done when you can smell the garlic and your mouth starts watering!

To account for these different cooking times, start the onions first, cook all the other main ingredients, and then add the garlic last. We like to clear a little spot (or "clean slate") in the middle of the pan to let the garlic cook by itself for a few seconds before stirring it into the rest of the dish.

  • 1
    Hmm. Yes. Cooking Garlic on its own for 3 minutes would burn it. With the additional mass of an onion to soak up the energy of the burner, burning of the garlic seems unlikely. If I cooked the garlic first briefly and then added the onion or other ingredients the short cook time would make sense.
    – renesis
    Mar 10, 2016 at 5:58
  • A bit of onion is not enough to soak up the energy of the burner @renesis.
    – GdD
    Mar 10, 2016 at 8:32
  • 2
    So what I actually did with this recipe was start the onion & garlic at the same time & cook until the onion was softened (translucent & but not browned) probably around 8 minutes or so. The garlic was certainly not burned. It seems the takeaway from this thread is that if I added the garlic later & allowed it to cook less, I could expect there to be more of the aromatic flavors of the garlic remaining in the dish. Is that correct?
    – renesis
    Mar 10, 2016 at 15:27
  • 2
    @renesis - It really depends on your pan temperature. A "true" saute requires the pan to be so hot that fairly constant motion is required to prevent burning. If you cooked garlic without burning for 8 minutes you were obviously using a lower temperature, perhaps doing more "sweating" than sauteing, which changes the flavor profile of the result.
    – Athanasius
    Mar 10, 2016 at 17:00
  • 1
    I have cooked onion and garlic together all the time: in Chili, Re-fried beans, Spanish rice, Split peas, Lentils, and tons more. I have never had a problem with burnt garlic, nor with under-cooked onion. Mar 10, 2016 at 22:18

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