Jarred garlic gets a bad rap, but it’s perfectly fine
Generally, I’m not the kind of home cook that hates to do a bunch of involved prep work for a recipe. In fact, there’s often nothing I find more meditative than chopping a mirepoix for soup, taking care to make sure that each cube of vegetable is roughly uniform. And mostly, I don’t even mind the tedious task of mincing garlic, which I use copiously in basically every recipe. But when I’m exhausted after a long day, or too depressed to make a really involved meal, I resort to jarred garlic, or as I call it, jarlic.
For years, I was a garlic snob. I started arguments with my roommate over the ever-present jar of pre-minced garlic in our refrigerator, insisting that it was totally inferior to the garlic I’d just spent 20 minutes peeling and chopping. In my mind, the watery garlic had a metallic taste from its extensive processing and just wasn’t quite as garlicky as the fresh stuff. But in the fugue state that was the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, I totally abandoned my snobbery as grocery shortages made even the most ubiquitous ingredients difficult to find. In a burst of desperation, I purchased a jar of Badia minced garlic packed in olive oil, and I haven’t looked back since.
I’d be lying if I said that TikTok didn’t play at least a minor role in my change of heart. My feed is, perhaps not surprisingly, dominated by food videos of all kinds, my favorite of which come from home cooks making their beloved family recipes. In my hours of scrolling, I noticed that almost all of these homespun creators were tossing massive heaps of pre-minced garlic into their dishes. At first I was pretty grossed out, but the recipes themselves often looked so compelling. And if pre-minced garlic is good enough for the Mississippi Kween, who’s racked up millions of views for her easy-to-prepare meals, it’s good enough for me.
After a couple of days sitting in my refrigerator unopened, I threw a scoop of the Badia garlic into some green beans and was pleasantly surprised when the scent of buttery garlic wafted throughout the room. I tasted one of the tiny minced cubes on its own, and it was fine. My stir-fried green beans were just as tasty as they usually are, with extremely minimal effort. I even drizzled a little of the oil over the beans, which intensified the garlicky flavor. From there, I found even more uses for jarlic. It worked great in creamy salad dressings, where I only wanted a hint of garlic, and blended easily into dips like hummus.
Before my conversion to jarlic, my friends had described my garlic stance as “elitist,” and it’s a totally accurate charge. Ingredient snobs can often fail to recognize that convenience ingredients like jarred garlic can be invaluable for people of all kinds, including those with disabilities that make cooking a challenge and those who may not be able to afford keeping their kitchens stocked with fresh produce. The perception is that many of the swaps that people have to make to put dinner on the table make their food inferior, but more often than not, using an ingredient like jarred garlic isn’t going to make any real difference in the dish’s final form. Even if it’s muted, there’s still garlic flavor there, and that’s all you need. In the worst case scenario, you just add a little more garlic. It really is that simple.
It’s important to note that there are many different brands of prepared garlic, and some are better than others. Garlic stored in water tends to be, well, water-logged. A key exception to this rule is the tiny frozen cubes of garlic that can be found in your grocery store’s freezer section — those have a pretty potent flavor, and last forever. Fresh garlic pastes, typically found in the produce department, are also a decent choice, but the first brand I tried, Badia’s olive oil-packed minced garlic, reigns supreme in my experience.
And to be sure, there are plenty of applications in which I wouldn’t use pre-minced garlic if I had the choice. If I’m trying to make pasta aglio e olio, I’m going to take the time to tediously shave super-thin slices of garlic to toss with my pasta. Nothing can substitute the flavor of garlic heads roasted whole, then spread over a warm and crusty loaf of bread. But for the kind of everyday cooking that most of us are doing to keep ourselves fed, jarlic will do just fine.