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I don't always want my garlic to taste the same way. Sometimes I want only the deep umami flavor without the bite (so I let it cook more) and sometimes I look for a strong garlic bite presence in the dish.

I know it depends on how you slice and cook it, but I would like to know the science behind it. My questions:

  1. If you want to have a strong garlic bite, how should you dice the garlic, at what temperature to fry it and for how long?
  2. Same as above, only without the bite.
  3. What "signs" (the smell, the look etc) can cue you in on what "stage" the garlic is right now (strong bite, mellow bite etc)?
  4. Are there general guidelines that you should always follow (like always saute garlic on low heat)?
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Garlic strength is mainly down to how much you cook the garlic, and how finely you chop it (different varieties of garlic notwithstanding). Simply put, the less you cook it and the finer you chop it, the more bite it will have.

So you can alter those variables to achieve the effect you want. If you want super punchy garlic, chop it finely and use it raw. If you want mellow, rich garlic, cook it slowly, whole, and it will turn sweet and sticky. If you want something in between, slice and saute until light golden brown.

Garlic burns very quickly, so a very high heat is generally a bad idea, unless you are very careful to keep the garlic moving. There is a fine line between nicely toasted garlic and blackened, bitter garlic.

  • Does finely chopped garlic have more bite simply due to the increased "exposed" surface area? – BruceWayne Jan 31 '17 at 4:28
  • I believe so - that and you are releasing more of the juices. – ElendilTheTall Jan 31 '17 at 10:06
  • 1
    What about adding it early to the oil (cooking it shortly) VS adding it directly to the sauce? Is there a bite that you cannot get if you don't saute it? – Bar Akiva Jan 31 '17 at 11:19
  • 1
    Also, the way you prep the garlic can change its taste, seriouseats.com/2015/01/… – elias altenberg Jan 31 '17 at 18:58
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  1. Less cooked equals more bite. As far as dicing is concerned, dicing finer will release more "juice" and create more surface area to "mingle" with the other ingredients (or your tastebuds). That being said, finer diced garlic will cook faster, so will require less heat(temp times time) for a given amount of bite.

  2. Generally more cooking equals less bite. However, if you also want to avoid burning / charring the garlic you can try microwaving it as suggested here: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/6583-taking-the-bite-out-of-garlic

  3. Browner generally will have less bite, but a large chunk of garlic with a browned exterior may still be pretty raw on the inside ( again, see microwave suggestion in #2 )

  4. Shouldn't smoke. For really mild garlic try microwaving first, or oven-roasting, as these methods limit the peak surface temperature when compared with sauteing.

4

Check out Kenji Lopez-alt's dive into the science of garlic flavor. http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/03/the-food-lab-how-to-make-great-hummus.html#garlic

Short answer is:

I knew that the hot flavors in garlic develop when the enzyme alliinase converts a mild compound called alliin into a more pungent one called allicin, and I also knew that this reaction doesn't take place until the garlic is sliced open and cells are ruptured. It's for this reason that you can drastically alter the flavor of garlic just by cutting it in different ways. But in my hummus, the garlic was getting fully puréed either way, so what gives?

...continues

Turns out alliinase is highly active at a neutral pH, with peak activity at a very slightly acidic pH of 6.5. As you get more and more acidic, its activity drops off precipitously. Lemon juice has a pH of just around 2. The study's data only go down to a pH of 3, but extrapolating that graph, we can guess that at pH 2, allicin's activity is reduced to a quarter or less of its peak activity. That's what keeps garlic from becoming too harsh. Once enzymatic activity has stabilized, you can then incorporate that garlicky-but-not-harsh lemon juice mixture into your tahini sauce and hummus without fear.

  • I love soaking my garlic, shallots, onions, in citrus juice or vinegar with some salt. – JamesCW Jan 31 '17 at 16:47

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