Garlic is one of those wonderful ingredients that we tend to take for granted without ever really thinking about it. However, some people are put off eating garlic because they think it is too hot and pungent.
Fans of this popular flavoring might disagree, and garlic is a key ingredient in many dishes.
So, is garlic spicy? Garlic is slightly spicy, but not in the same way as other hot spices such as chili and cayenne pepper. The spiciest form of garlic is raw garlic, and the flavor becomes much more mellow when it is cooked. When overcooked, garlic will taste bitter and unpleasant.
Want to learn more about garlic and its amazing culinary properties? Let’s find out everything there is to know about garlic, including how spicy it really is!
What Is Garlic?
Garlic is a vegetable that grows underground. Like onions and other bulbous vegetables, it forms a bulb underground, sending out long, straight green shoots vertically from the bulb.
The bulb is white in color and covered in inedible papery skin.
Interestingly, if you grow garlic, you can eat the long green shoots too! These are called scapes and have a delicate garlic flavor.
Inside each bulb of garlic, you will find 10 to 20 wedge-shaped individual sections called cloves. Each clove is covered in a thin skin, with a smooth fleshy segment inside. These are white, with a slight tint of yellow color.
The great thing about garlic is that it stores really well, and a little bit goes a long way in terms of flavor.
This means that you can buy a whole bulb of garlic and it will keep you supplied for several weeks or more. Garlic is relatively inexpensive, and is worth every cent in terms of flavor!
Garlic has a long history in cooking, from being used in Ancient Greece to boost the performance of Olympians to being used as an offering to the gods in Egyptian tombs.
Roman soldiers were given garlic to increase their strength, and Hippocrates recorded the use of garlic to treat various human ailments.
There are also many different types of garlic, although you will commonly only see dried “softneck” garlic bulbs in the stores. These types of garlic are more popular as they can be stored for long periods of time.
Softneck garlic is used to make those spectacular braids of garlic bulbs that are often seen at French food markets.
Hardneck varieties of garlic do not keep as well but are sought after for their delicious flavors ranging from mild and sweet to tangy and smoky. You can even get red and purple striped garlic bulbs.
Is Garlic A Spice Or A Vegetable?
Now, this is a bit of an odd one – garlic is a vegetable, but we use it as a spice!
Garlic is packed full of such intense flavor that it is rarely eaten as a stand-alone vegetable. Instead, it is used in smaller quantities to add flavor to our food.
The definition of a spice is something that is used in small quantities to flavor food, which certainly applies to this pungent vegetable.
So, garlic is a vegetable, but it wouldn’t be wrong to call it a spice as well!
In fact, we will often be able to find garlic in the fresh vegetable section of the store, and also on the spice shelf in the form of powdered garlic or garlic granules.
What Is Garlic Used For?
Do you ever have one of those weeks where it seems that you are using garlic in every single dish you are cooking? You’re not the only one!
Garlic is hugely popular in cuisines around the world, and this punchy clove is widely used in many recipes.
Garlic adds a subtle but unmistakable flavor when added during the cooking process as a seasoning.
It can be used for most types of cooking, including dishes that are sauteed, baked, roasted, and braised. It is commonly added to soups, sauces, marinades, meat rubs, and stir-fried dishes.
This versatile vegetable is also used to add flavor to preserved foods, such as cured sausages and pickled vegetables. It can also be added to ground meat, such as burgers and meatballs.
How Do You Eat Garlic?
Garlic can be eaten raw, but mostly it is cooked either on its own or with other ingredients. There are many different ways to prepare garlic, and the way it is prepared affects the strength of the flavor.
A popular way to use garlic is to add whole cloves to dishes that are roasted. The papery outer skin should be removed, but it is down to personal preference whether you want to remove the skin of the garlic clove as well.
Most recipes ask for garlic to be used in smaller pieces, rather than adding whole cloves. It is important to remember that the more finely garlic is chopped, the more pungent the flavor will be.
This is because finely chopped garlic can release more of its intensely flavored oils into the dish.
For the biggest hit of garlic flavor, the individual cloves can also be minced, grated, pressed, or crushed. When prepared in this way you will not see the garlic in your food, but you will certainly be able to taste it!
One thing to note when cooking with garlic is that it burns very quickly, and this can turn the flavor quite bitter. This is more likely to happen when the garlic is chopped into smaller pieces.
Is Garlic Spicy?
So, down to the big question – is garlic spicy? The flavor of garlic is difficult to describe, as it tastes quite unlike any other seasoning.
The intensity of flavor also changes hugely according to whether it is eaten raw or cooked, and how it is cooked also changes the taste.
The most common word used to describe garlic is “pungent”, and with good reason! If someone is cooking with garlic you will be able to smell it straight away, and the flavor is so strong that a little bit of garlic goes a long way.
The nearest relative to garlic in terms of flavor is onion, and the two are commonly added together to dishes.
However, garlic has a unique component that creates its unmistakable flavor, called allicin. This is a naturally-occurring substance that is incredibly strong in both taste and aroma.
It is the allicin that creates the strong flavor in garlic, and to many people, this results in a spicy taste!
The spiciness of garlic is directly linked to the strength of flavor in the bulb. A mildly flavored bulb of garlic will not be very spicy, whereas a strongly flavored garlic clove will have a good hit of spicy flavor.
Is Raw Garlic Spicy?
The spiciest form of garlic of all is raw garlic. When garlic is cooked, the allicin mellows in flavor, but in raw garlic it is intensely spicy!
For this reason, some people do not enjoy eating raw garlic. However, raw garlic can be a very useful ingredient and is often used to add flavor to different dishes.
Raw garlic can be used to flavor marinades, dips, sauces, and flavored oils. It is also often added to pickles and brined vegetables for a subtle hint of flavor.
When using raw garlic, remember that the more finely it is chopped, the spicier it will be. The spiciest of all is crushed or grated garlic, which can release more allicin into the other ingredients.
Is Cooked Garlic Spicy?
The spicy flavor of raw garlic is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but luckily when this versatile vegetable is cooked something incredible happens to the flavor!
The oily allicin in garlic is quickly transformed when cooked into a much more mellow and rounded flavor. It loses almost all of its spiciness, and the garlicky taste is milder and much more pleasant.
When cooking with garlic, the intensity of the flavor is again linked to how finely it is chopped. Adding one or two whole cloves to a roasting pan will give a milder flavor than grating them into a stockpot.
Cooking garlic does not take long, and it is all too easy to burn this delicate vegetable.
In a frying pan on medium-high heat, just 30 seconds is enough time to turn raw garlic into a mellow and fragrant seasoning that can be added to any sauce or marinade.
The unmistakable garlic flavor will still be present, but with far less punch and spice!
You might be wondering what is the point of using garlic if it is not spicy when cooked, but for most recipes, it is not the spicy flavor we are seeking.
Garlic adds a delicate taste and aroma to the whole dish, that you would definitely miss if it was not there!
The longer and slower garlic is cooked, the milder and more delicate the flavor gets. However, this flavor doesn’t disappear, it simply permeates the other ingredients instead!
The way that a joint of roast lamb or whole roast chicken can be transformed by garlic is testament to this.
Another great way to cook with garlic to reduce the spiciness is to roast whole garlic bulbs or cloves. This will give a creamy texture to the cloves with a mild, nutty, caramelized flavor.
Is Garlic Powder Spicy?
Garlic powder is not as spicy as raw garlic but does have the same intensity of flavor. This form of garlic is normally used for cooking, where it adds a sweetness and delicate hint of garlic to your dish (this is our favorite brand!).
Garlic powder will not give you the same caramelized flavor as roasted or sauteed garlic.
Is Garlic More Spicy Than Chili Peppers?
Garlic is not spicy in the same way that chili peppers are, so it will not add “heat” to your food. But garlic is spicy in a different way, and if eaten raw the allicin will certainly create a warm feeling in your mouth!
The heat in hot chili peppers comes from a substance called capsaicin, which gives a different type of reaction when eaten than allicin.
Capsaicin triggers pain receptors on your tongue, which send a signal to your brain that you have eaten something hot.
Different types of chili pepper have different levels of capsaicin, which is why some chilies are much fiercer when it comes to heat than others!
Does Garlic Work Well With Spicy Ingredients?
If you look at any recipe that calls for spice, you will commonly see that garlic is included. This is because even though garlic loses its spiciness when cooked, the distinctive flavor works incredibly well with other spicy ingredients.
The most common spices used with garlic include chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, and ginger. These are all spicy in their own different way, and the flavors blend perfectly with garlic when cooked.
In fact, the flavor of garlic is so useful in spicy dishes that it is often used as a base for sauces along with onion and ginger.
Does Garlic Taste The Same To Everyone?
The odd thing about garlic is that it does not taste the same to everyone!
Some people are much more sensitive to the taste of garlic, and find it strong and overpowering. Others seem to be almost immune to this spicy vegetable, and can happily eat raw cloves of garlic!
The extent to which people can taste garlic does not seem to change over time, but people do become accustomed to the taste.
Many people find that they can tolerate more and more garlic as they become used to the flavor, especially when it is used in cooking. Raw garlic is more of an acquired taste that many people never get used to!
Remember that garlic can also differ in strength from one bulb to the next, and the cloves also vary widely in size. So in one bulb of garlic, a small clove could be stronger than a large clove in a different bulb.
Now that we’ve gone over the taste and flavor of garlic, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
How do you make garlic less spicy?
The easiest way to make garlic less spicy is by cooking it over low heat for a long period of time. This will allow all the allicin oils to disperse, leaving a hint of garlic flavor without the spiciness.
If you’ve made a dish containing garlic and the flavor is too spicy, you can tone it down by adding some type of dairy product. This could be heavy cream, sour cream, yogurt, or soft cheese.
Some people find the flavor of raw garlic overpowering and far too spicy. If your dish calls for raw garlic but you don’t like the heat, try roasting whole cloves of garlic and using these instead.
This will give you a subtle garlic flavor without any spice.
What is the best substitute for garlic?
If you don’t have any fresh garlic in the house, there are some good substitutes available to use instead.
The most obvious substitute for fresh garlic is to use a form of dried or preserved garlic, such as garlic powder, garlic granules, or garlic flakes.
Alternatively, you can use another type of allium bulb instead of garlic. This won’t give you quite the same intensity of flavor but will be better than nothing at all.
Try using finely chopped onions, shallots, or chives as a replacement for garlic in your recipe.
In a pinch, you could add cumin to your recipe as a replacement for garlic. This will change the flavor of your dish but works well in many recipes that call for garlic.
Does garlic powder taste the same as fresh garlic?
Preserved garlic is a useful spice cupboard staple, perfect for when we have run out of the fresh version of this pungent bulb.
The great thing about dried garlic is that the flavor is preserved for longer, and can be used for up to 3 years.
This means it vastly outlives a bulb of fresh garlic, which must be used within a few months.
The flavor of garlic powder is stronger and more potent than fresh garlic, and this concentrated powder should be used in smaller quantities. You will not get the same sweet and nutty flavor with garlic powder as you do with fresh garlic.
A good rule of thumb is to use ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder for every garlic clove your recipe calls for. Add this to your dish at the same time as any other dried spices, rather than with fresh ingredients such as onion or ginger.
If you’re looking for a fun, interesting way to use garlic, check out this video from the folks over at Bon Appétit!
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