Is Pre-Minced Garlic Really Such a Bad Thing?

The controversial cooking question that over 1.8 million people have wondered.

December 17, 2021
Photo by Jenny Huang

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 nine years ago and it's entirely unedited.

The Hotline thread "How much minced garlic equals one clove?" has nearly two million views since it was posted sometime in 2012. It's the first search result 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?

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,

"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 percent. I use the conversion of one clove equals one teaspoon. I believe Cook's Illustrated does the same.

What's more interesting than the non-answer answer (one clove is equal to one teaspoon... kind of, sometimes, maybe...but in the end, it all depends on your taste, anyway: vampires versus garlic fiends) is the judgment that is scattered throughout the thread. Fortunately for Food52 readers, you’ll find that across the board, our recipes measure garlic based on the amount of cloves and heads needed, not teaspoons or tablespoons.

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.

This opened up a whole new can of worms (err jarred garlic) that got away from the discussion of whether or not a jar of minced garlic is an acceptable substitute for fresh garlic.

Is Pre-Minced Garlic That Bad?

We’ve established that pre-minced garlic saves time. That is an unequivocal fact. But what about the flavor—is the flavor of pre-minced jarred garlic worse than a fresh clove of garlic? Food52 staff writer Kelly Vaughan thinks yes: “There are plenty of dishes that are garlic heavy (think: pot roast or chicken with 40 cloves of garlic), but for the most part garlic is an aromatic, a flavor-enhancer meant to carry canned San Marzano tomatoes, brighten basil, and offset the sweetness in a brown sauce for stir-fry. When you open a jar of minced garlic, take a whiff. It smells like the contents have already gone bad. The aroma of tiny bits of garlic floating in a bath of garlic juice (if there is such a thing) is overpowering, off-putting, and personally offensive.”

The previous arguments were 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).

Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screw-top jars.
Anthony Bourdain, International Man of Kitchen Mystery

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?

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 three or four teaspoons minced garlic and questioning if they'd have to run out to the store to buy another head or if the one clove would do? Maybe most of the curious minds weren't reaching into jars at all.

Applause to anyone that is trying to be a better home chef, no matter what kind of garlic you are using.
Food52er rldougherty

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."

Here’s what food scientist J. Kenji López-Alt has to say: Prechopped garlic, garlic pasta, garlic juice, and other convenience products of their ilk should be roundly rejected. Just as with onions, the aromatic compounds in garlic are formed through an enzymatic chemical reaction that occurs as soon as its cells are ruptured. So, to maximize garlic flavor, you need to cut it just before incorporating it into a dish. Precut garlic has none of the complexity and freshness of whole garlic cloves,” he writes in his tome, The Food Lab. As for garlic powder? He’s against that as a substitute for the fresh stuff too.

I'd have to agree.

However, if you want to save time, here’s what I think is the happy medium: chop garlic (fresh! whole! cloves!) in a food processor. It will break up the cloves of garlic into hundreds of tiny allium bits, saving you from what many seem to think is the hassle of chopping whole cloves on a cutting board.

There is something therapeutic, and certainly alluring, about peeling and cutting garlic. Some may call it smelly, but I think it’s that the papery skin will inevitably stick to your fingers and your hands will smell like garlic for days. But that’s part of the beauty of home cooking and I will continue to defend garlic in its whole, unadulterated form.

Garlicky Recipes, Sliced or Minced

1. Pot Roast With 40 Cloves Of Garlic

Not for the faint of heart (though we hear garlic has cardiovascular benefits!)—both because of the big, bold, garlic flavor, and because, yes, you really have to peel all 40 cloves. But it's well worth it for the melt-in-your-mouth meat and perfectly seasoned, super-silky vegetables that result.

2. Harissa Lamb, Beans & Garlicky Greens

Is it the tender, shreddable lamb belly that makes us love this dish so much? Or the creamy, plump, flavor-packed beans swimming in lamby broth? Nope—it's the hit of grated garlic that showers the earthy, slightly bitter greens accompanying both components. It brings some much-needed brightness and sharpness to the party.

3. Cornish Game Hen Soup With Garlic, Ginger & Fried Shallots

Garlic and ginger bolster and heighten otherwise mellow poultry broth, also seasoning the game hen meat from the outside in. A flourish of fried shallots gives some crunch to the whole affair, but doesn't overpower the aromatic undertones of the soup.

4. Shroom & White Bean Scampi

You know and love classic shrimp scampi, with all its buttery, garlicky, lemony charms. But have you ever tried it with umami-rich mushrooms and creamy white beans? If not, we highly recommend it.

5. Creamy Garlic Chicken

Garlic, butter, herbes de Provence, Dijon mustard, and, yes, heavy cream, make for a delightful sauce you'll want to eat by the spoonful. Pro tip: Make a double batch of the sauce and slather it on anything and everything beyond just chicken—steamed green beans or asparagus, crusty bread, a baked potato, for starters.

6. Crispy Garlic Dip

If you have Greek yogurt, garlic, and salt and pepper, you have your new favorite partner for chips. Seriously! It'll remind you of the beloved party fodder, French onion dip, but with a lot more personality and pizzazz. One reader raved: "Lovely, simple and much more than the sum of its parts. Got gobbled up greedily." Can we come next time there's dip for gobbling?!

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

This article was originally published in 2016, but has been updated because, well, we like to stir the pot.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


James G. December 23, 2022
If I happen to be on an artic Expedition in the North Pole and the guy who is supplying my fresh garlic in stuck in a blizzard in North Dakota, then I might use this horrible condiment. Otherwise, I agree 100% - even if organic, with the person who previously posted:
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.sly posted:
Diana N. January 9, 2022
I buy peeled garlic from Costco and come home, then process the garlic in my food processor with a little olive oil. Then I use two sizes of dishers to put it on a jelly roll and freeze them. Then you can put them in a storage bag in the freezer. Garlic on demand!
[email protected] January 9, 2022
I will reread the articles that compare the outcomes of using different methods of preparing garlic from time to time because they're interesting and I appreciate the effort that was put into them. I've never replicated them but I believe the conclusion that fresh garlic is best. The thing is, I have a life where there are other competing priorities beyond putting maximum effort into cooking at all times (read: I have young kids). So even though I enjoy cooking and eating, my palate isn't refined enough to be that bothered by the jarred minced garlic or garlic powder (from Burlap & Barrel, no less!) instead for the time savings. It's not worth it to have to haul out the chopping board, find a clean knife, deal with the garlic, deal with washing everything afterwards for a dish where garlic is just a minor accent. And the suggestion to just use a food processor made me laugh, since it was made with zero consideration for the fact that now you still have to take apart the food processor parts and wash those and find space to dry them before reassembling it all together again! We have one dishwasher, not two, which already is run slightly more than once a day and has dishes pile up while it's running. Someday I would love to have two dishwashers but that's quite the luxury. Anyway, I know just of these articles are just trying to generate engagement by generating outrage, but usually I'm just left rolling my eyes at the lack of empathy and imagination that other people might have perfectly reasonable reasons for what they choose to do.
Bogie123 January 9, 2022
I find that jarred garlic is less pungent than fresh so it is good for recipes where I want just a hint of garlic or to add depth without overwhelming.
Kim January 9, 2022
I used to use minced garlic to save time. But then I noticed that, in some people, when jarred garlic is consumed, their breath is “different” than it is with fresh garlic. And it stays for a day or two. So it’s fresh here. Always. And if your hand smells, rub it on your stainless steel sink, or keep a SS spoon close by. You can use the end of the spoon to remove any smell under nails too.
Mary January 2, 2022
If you like the way it tastes in your cooking it doesn't matter which of the many iterations of garlic ready to use garlic or not. I keep garlic around all the time and get fed up with the little plants starting to grow inside and use the garlic anyway. I know Mme Chez Panissse can taste the bitterness but I sure can't. No I don't run the grocery store with my string bag to obtain perfectly fresh and beautiful produce. Actually that doesn't exist where I live. I have many choices of rather tired looking stuff at high prices. I'm so over food snobbery.
Sarah January 2, 2022
The frozen, minced garlic is not bad. It comes in one clove cubes.
Kitspy December 29, 2021
Disabled people cook. This reminds me of people disparaging pre-chopped produce (aside from garlic), which can make cooking more accessible to people who aren't able to chop their own vegetables. It's almost 2022. Let's retire the ableist notion that "convenience products should be rejected." Don't use them if you don't need or want to. It's really simple.
Ray W. December 17, 2021
What about garlic in the tube. It's kept cool in the produce dept. and the flavor seems fine!
FS January 9, 2022
That's my go-to, Ray. It works fine and is much fresher than the jarred kind.
Lea C. October 1, 2020
"We're not asking you, Bourdain" is a bit jarring, considering Anthony Bourdain died two years ago.

That said, I'm not sure why bourdain didn't like garlic presses. If you're using fresh garlic, what the hell does it matter?
JC O. November 18, 2020
The article was written 8 years ago, 6 years before Anthony Bourdain took his own life.
Miche September 4, 2023
But, what is wrong with garlic presses?
jy2nd May 17, 2020
Forgot to say that I’m mincing about 8 large heads of garlic per quarter sheet pan, and adding 1/2 cup of oil to the mixed garlic before spreading it in the pan.
jy2nd May 17, 2020
Try this: I grow my own garlic - an heirloom hardneck variety - about 60 head each year. Hardneck doesn’t store all that well, and 60 head will go bad before my one person household can consume all of them (even though I eat a lot of garlic). So I peel and mince about 3/4 of the crop, using the food processor. I then spread the garlic in a baking pan(s) lined with plastic wrap. Not a deep layer - 1/4” at most. Score the layer into 1” segments. Each segment will be the equivalent of 1 teaspoon, or one clove. Wrap the plastic around to cover the minced garlic and put into the freezer until firm. Then break into large pieces, wrap them, put in freezer baggies and break off one of the little squares for each clove you need. The taste is fresh, and it’s really convenient.
Audrey B. May 17, 2020
Trader Joe’s has an amazing frozen garlic product!!! I use them constantly. Frozen squares you can just pop out when you need, no need to thaw, each square equals one clove. I swear by them!!
D October 1, 2020
Dorot Gardens. I wish TJ's carried the whole line of products.
My N. May 7, 2020
To be honest, I actually never thought that the use of garlic would create such a debate.
I have never owned a garlic press and always chopped mine with a knife, and in my home country (France), I had never encountered jarred minced garlic. At home, we have always used garlic cloves (which are probably getting into our food on a daily basis), and I am pretty sure that all my friend and family back home do the same.
The first time I saw garlic in a jar, all minced up, was when moving to Australia, then the same in the UK and Canada, where somehow minced garlic seems to be a staple in many households. I did wonder if that was just a shortcut to avoid the smell of garlic on your fingers, or if it was maybe cheaper, or like you point it out, easier to measure out for recipes.
As a home cook, but also an experienced cook in professional kitchens, I do tend to thin, and believe, that fresh garlic will have a better flavour, and also, be fresher (guaranteeing maybe more nutrients and health benefits from the stuff too, rather than a random paste that has been chopped up months ago...).
Also, by using fresh garlic, you do have more control on what kind of garlic you use : although most people do use garlic all year round (I do!), let's not forget that garlic is a seasonal crop and it doesn't grow continuously. There is fresh garlic in Spring, then it is slowly drying, its flavour profile and moisture content changing as it ages... until we come back to the fresh seasonal one again the year after.
In the end, even if we think of garlic as a very basic ingredient that is just the base of hundreds of dishes, maybe we should pay more attention to the quality of it too, and try to buy the best we can, as that will have an impact on the finished dish.
As for the chopping technique questiom, I usually adapt the way I cut the garlic to the recipe I am making, and also add the garlic at different stages in the recipe, the size of the cut will therefore matter, as it cooks more or less. If I need it very finely chopped, I bash it with the back of a knife (santoku or chef's knife), and then finely chop. But some recipes might benefit from a chunkier texture or slices.
I think it's all a matter of reconnecting people to their food and the ingredients they use. You don't just put garlic in a recipe because it tells you to do so : the garlic has a mission there, each ingredient of a recipe has a role to play, and need to be treated the right way for the dish to taste good. So even for beginner cooks who might prefer to grab a jar for convenience, I would urge them to go back to the roots of cooking and connect with the ingredients they are using, and discover the true flavour of their food.
Kestrel May 6, 2020
A ceramic ginger/garlic disk aka grater is the easiest way to finely mince garlic. I use it almost every day. Garlic is not hard and doesn’t take a lot of skill or technique if you use one. Plus it’s fast and precise. But I love garlic and prefer to avoid both gimmicks and extra work, lol
emily March 19, 2018
Let me preface this by saying I’m an avid Home cooker. Very avid. I agree with Bourdain and Rldougherty. I applaude any one who is trying to cook at home whether it be a newbie or basically a chef. But... I also feel like the only people who deserve the absurdly wonderful taste of garlic to grace their taste buds are the ones that battle that awful garlic peel and painstakingly mince that beautiful bitch. But... again... we are human and who can resist such a blessing that is pre minced garlic on a desperately busy night. So I believe there is room for both in this crazy world. (Though we ALL know fresh is best 💁🏻‍♀️) You do you cheffy loves!!! May your soufflés never collapse and your pies never be soggy.
jax420 March 18, 2018
I would think that anyone who is reading/commenting on an article on Food52 is interested enough in his or her food that it would suffice to give an estimate as to how much garlic one likes in a recipe. For my mom, she would look at a given recipe which called for 3 cloves and only add one. For my mother-in-law, she might add 4. Both would be delicious! However, the idea of taking something from it’s natural state that is so simple to prep and putting it in a plastic jar, I can understand Bourdain’s perspective. One of my favorite methods is the smash and drop! Less than 10 seconds from whole head to prepped product and the garlic flavor is distributed better than mincing.
Millie J. March 18, 2018
Can you describe "smash and drop"? I've never come across that term, and I use a lot of garlic so it sounds very helpful.
home_cook_mark May 6, 2020
Millie, it's where you smash the clove with the side of a wide knife such as a santoku, breaking open the stiff skins and then dropping the clove out of the skin. I use a silicone roll that uses its rubbery grip to pull the skins off. saves a lot of time!
Joseph W. March 18, 2018
inho there is a better way to use garlic.. i just confit garlic and put it in a jar with the oil. then add garlic to taste in all my cooking ?
Margaret L. September 25, 2017
There was a time, back in the Reagan era, when I thought no one could ever get tired of garlic -- it seemed absurd, like the time that Women's Wear Daily foolishly declared that thyme was "out" and rosemary was "in!" Chicken with 40 cloves was a personal specialty when it was pretty much unheard of.

Then I spent several of the past 15 years traveling in the US for work, eating in hotels not of my own choosing, where every mediocre dish that was thawed in the kitchen was made palatable by the over-use of garlic until I can barely stand it anymore. The smell of garlic fries at the ballpark in San Francisco makes me queasy. I am proof that it is possible for a genuine food lover with Italian cred to go off the garlic bandwagon. I still use garlic at home, but in moderate amounts and not when it can easily be left out. Let this be a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks their love affair with garlic can never, ever lose its bloom.

Now I have a question. I have never, even in my greatest garlic-loving days, enjoyed mincing garlic. It's sticky. It's tiny. If I forget to clean my hands by clutching the chef's knife's blade (or some other stainless steel) under cold running water, my hands smell oppressive. One day a couple of years ago I got the bright idea to use the microplane to make garlic paste rather than battling it with a knife. Now I plane a clove or two when needed rather than trying to mince it. My question is, does anyone think this changes the flavor? Is a clove of minced garlic significantly different from a microplaned clove? It seems milder to me when prepped into more of a paste, stonger when sliced into fine slivers, but maybe it's just my imagination? Has anyone else tried this?
asbrink September 25, 2017
This article might help!
Millie J. September 26, 2017
Margaret, how do you microplane a little-bitty clove of garlic without also microplaning your fingers?
Margaret L. September 26, 2017
Millie, if I start at one end rather than with the clove oriented the long way on the plane, I end up with just a tiny nub. My fingers have never really had a problem :-)
Margaret L. September 26, 2017
asbrink, thank you -- very helpful! There's just one test the author didn't do, and I wish he had. All alliums lose their pungency somewhat when exposed to air. The onion that takes the cook's breath away at first loses some potency as it sits on the cutting board. And it might stand to reason that the more finely a garlic clove is cut/minced/crushed/planed, the earlier it would show more pungency but also lose it faster. In the interests of culinary science, we may need to investigate further!
asbrink September 26, 2017
He actually answered a question about that in the comments!!

Daniel Gritzer
6:24PM on 01/09/15
@unixrab That is true, as minced garlic sits its flavor changes. I prepared all my samples very quickly to minimize the amount of time any of them sat in relation to the others. I also reversed the order between minced and microplaned, so that in one test I minced first, and in another I microplaned first. It didn't have a significant effect—given the short amount of time I was working in, their qualities in relation to each other were consistent.
asbrink September 26, 2017
Millie, I hold it by that little stem end and end up with the little nub you always slice off anyway.
kjdirth September 25, 2017
I would have to say that 1 teaspoon sounds about right. The cloves in a head of garlic tend to range from about 1/2 Tablespoon to 1/4 teaspoon. That is only for writing down a recipe. Garlic is measured more by preference than the teaspoon. I tend to add more than the recipe calls for, if I am actually following a recipe. Recipes are guides and cooking is an adventure.