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The Controversial Cooking Question That Over 1 Million People Have Wondered

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No matter what article or recipe we've just pushed live on the site or promoted through email or on Instagram and Facebook, there is one page on Food52 that is almost constantly in the list of ten URLs with the most real-time viewers.

It's from four years ago and it's entirely unedited.

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The Hotline thread "How much minced garlic equals one clove?" has 1,123,671 views since it was posted sometime in 2012. It's the first page that comes up when you type the question into Google, which means a lot of people really do want to know just how much minced garlic equals one clove.

So what's the answer?

One head of garlic, minced.
One head of garlic, minced. Photo by James Ransom

Well, it's not cut and dry: It depends on how finely minced the garlic is, and even if the chop is standardized, clove size may vary. For ChefOno,

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"clove" [is] a useless measurement. Look at the variation on this page—anywhere from 1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon—that's a variation of 1200%. I use the conversion of 1 clove equals 1 teaspoon. I believe Cook's Illustrated does the same.

What's more interesting than the non-answer answer (1 clove is equal to 1 teaspoon... kind of, sometimes, maybe... but in the end all depends on your taste, anyway: vampires versus garlic fiends) is the judgment that is scattered throughout the thread.

Take the answer that's been "voted the best" as an example: "Answer" would be a generous term, actually. It's more like a withholding of information:

Sorry, I would toss the "packaged" garlic that has chemical preservatives in it in favor of spending the 20 seconds it takes to chop or mince fresh real garlic cloves.

But riding alongside this judgment is a rebuttal:

It's quite a bit longer than 20 seconds and if it's ORGANIC garlic then there aren't any preservatives.

Freshly chopped.
Freshly chopped. Photo by James Ransom

And that's just the most visible squabble. One commenter wrote, "You will never get the flavor of fresh garlic from a jar, so, there is no equivalent." But then we have another Food52er in New Zealand who explained that she uses pre-minced garlic because fresh garlic is so expensive where she lives (and because she likes to add a lot).

These strong convictions about garlic reminded me of Anthony Bourdain's (in)famous Kitchen Confidential garlic credo:

Misuse of garlic is a crime. Old garlic, burnt garlic, garlic cut too long ago, garlic that has been smashed through one of those abominations, the garlic press, are all disgusting. [...] Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screw-top jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.

Do we care so much about garlic, in particular, because it's the flavor basis of many dishes, so that taking a shortcut at the foundation means unstable architecture later on? Or is it because chopping garlic is one of the most menial, least pleasurable, smelliest of tasks, and a refusal to do so indicates a resistance to work for our food? Or is it because a failure to appreciate the difference between freshly-chopped and factory-chopped garlic is emblematic of a greater failure to discern between "good" food and "bad" food in general?

Four (leaf) clove(r)s.
Four (leaf) clove(r)s. Photo by Mark Weinberg

The pre-minced garlic shortcut seems more offensive than canned beans (perhaps because dried beans take so long to cook). But what about store-bought pie dough: Is that more or less egregious than a jar of garlic? Considering that pie dough is hard to get right whereas chopping garlic is hard to get wrong, the premade crust would probably be less snubbed. For me, personally, I'd rather cut butter into flour than chop 3 cloves. So, where do we draw the shortcut line?

I also couldn't help but wonder about the millions of people who did have the same question as Sean,Murray, the Food52 user who originally asked. Isn't it possible that many were, let's say, following recipes that called for 3 or 4 teaspoons minced garlic and questioning if they'd have to run out to the store to buy another head or if the 1 clove would do? Maybe most of the curious minds weren't reaching into jars at all.

Or maybe they were. Is it a sin? (We're not asking you, Bourdain.) I'd certainly go for the jar or the press if I wanted to make a double-batch of Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Garlic (12 cloves) or Chilled English Pea Soup with Garlic Cream (two heads).

As rldougherty put it, "Yes, fresh garlic is best. Applause to anyone that is trying to be a better home chef, no matter what kind of garlic you are using."

I'd have to agree.

But how many teaspoons of minced garlic from 3 whole heads?
But how many teaspoons of minced garlic from 3 whole heads? Photo by Mark Weinberg

What do you think? Is using pre-minced garlic a cardinal cooking sin? What's a cooking shortcut you'd never use?