Culinary Arts

All About Garlic: Benefits and Uses, Plus Easy Roasted Garlic Recipe

Written by MasterClass

May 9, 2019 • 5 min read

Whenever we think of a well-stocked kitchen, somewhere up there with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, is garlic. Practically every dish we make seems to have a few cloves tossed in. Garlic is a flavor powerhouse that brings the simplest foods to life—brushed with butter onto crusty slices of French bread, tossed into fresh pasta, and folded into creamy mashed potatoes. It is a staple ingredient that finds its way into our favorite everyday dishes.

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What Is Garlic?

Garlic is an allium species that belongs to the lily family, and is closely related to onions, shallots, and chives. It grows underground in the form of a bulb, which is composed of individual sections called cloves that are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Cloves of garlic are covered in thin, papery skins that are removed before cooking.

The Two Primary Varieties of Garlic

  • Softneck garlic (Allium sativum): The variety you usually see in supermarkets. It produces more cloves than the hardneck variety, and has a subtle flavor. The name comes from its soft, pliable stalk and delicate, papery skin.
  • Hardneck garlic (Allium ophioscorodon): If you’re looking for a bolder, spicy garlic flavor, try using hardneck garlic. They have woody central stalks and can be found at farmers’ markets.

What Are Garlic Scapes?

In the springtime, you may find green, curly, garlic scapes at the farmers’ market. These come from the bulbs of hardneck garlic plants, and they're are often used in stir-fries and have a mild taste similar to chives and scallions.

What Does Garlic Taste Like?

Garlic has a unique, pungent flavor that borders on spicy when raw and nutty when cooked. Sulfur compounds, including diallyl disulfide, contribute to its mustard-y flavor profile. When dried and crushed into garlic powder, it loses its acrid raw flavor, making it perfect for seasoning dishes.

How to Buy and Store Fresh Garlic

Shopping for garlic can be tricky at first because the cloves are hidden under the outer layers, but identifying fresh garlic is easy with practice.

  • Feel the bulbs. They should be firm and plump.
  • Avoid buying soft or spongy looking cloves. Or bulbs with green shoots growing out of them.
  • Store garlic at room temperature in a dry, dark place. Choose somewhere with proper airflow, like in a basket or open bag in a pantry.

What Are the Health Benefits of Garlic?

For thousands of years garlic has been touted for its health benefits, which range from boosting the immune system to reducing high blood pressure and heart disease. Many cultures have home remedies for the common cold using garlic, whether it’s chicken soup cooked with garlic, a hot drink made with crushed garlic, or even eating raw whole cloves (watch that breath!).

  • Nutritional value. It’s chock full of nutrients like vitamin c, vitamin b6, manganese, and fiber.
  • Anti-inflammatory. Garlic extract or garlic supplements can be taken daily to reduce cholesterol levels
  • Anti-bacterial. You can also use garlic as a topical, antifungal agent.
  • Antioxidant. Garlic’s antioxidant properties fight free radicals and cancer cells, and are particularly effective as a preventative measure against colon cancer.

The positive effects of garlic intake far outweigh any bad. Garlic consumption can lead to bad breath, heartburn, or nausea, but there aren't many side effects associated with eating garlic.

What Are the Culinary Uses of Garlic?

Garlic cloves are used raw and cooked in dishes and have a strong flavor and aroma that varies with different cooking methods. Most commonly sautéed with onions, garlic can also be roasted until soft and sweet to spread over toast, infused into oils, used in spice rubs, made into garlic butter, and enjoyed raw in salad dressings. Roasting garlic mellows out its strong, almost spicy raw flavor.

In Korea, whole heads of raw garlic are fermented at high temperatures; resulting in a black garlic that is sweet and delicate in flavor. Garlic chives, which are the tender leaves that sprout from the bulb of garlic are a popular vegetable in China. They’re used in noodles, dumplings, and scrambled eggs.

How to Peel Garlic in Three Easy Steps

  1. Break up the head of garlic, separating the cloves.
  2. Place a clove on the cutting board and position the flat side of your knife on top of the clove, holding the handle firmly. Place the heel of your other hand on the flat side of the knife and smash the blade down firmly until the clove is crushed.
  3. Pull the loosened skin of the garlic clove and discard. Repeat with the remaining cloves.

6 Ways to Cut Garlic

  • Slice: Take a peeled clove and hold under one hand, curling your fingers under for safety. Using a rocking motion with your knife, make thin slices.
  • Chop: Begin by slicing the clove. Hold the tip of the knife with one hand and use the other hand to create a rocking motion, moving the blade back and forth over your slices to roughly chop garlic.
  • Mince: Using a two-handed chopping motion, run your knife over the garlic repeatedly to mince it into fine bits. Keep one hand on top of blade, rocking the blade back and forth as you move it across a pile of garlic. Minced garlic is finer than chopped.
  • Grate: Rub the clove up and down against a grater, making a fine mince. This method is great for when you’re feeling too lazy to mince garlic, and can be done straight into the pan while cooking (less dishes to wash!).
  • Crush: Lay the flat side of your chef’s knife over the clove while holding the handle. Using the heel of your other hand, smash the blade down firmly on the clove until crushed. You can get the same results using a garlic press.
  • Knife-blade Puréeing: Start by roughly mincing the garlic, then with the side of the blade’s edge, press down to crush the bits into a purée.

2 Ways to Sauté Garlic Without Burning

  1. Start your garlic and oil in a cold pan, heat them together until the garlic is bubbling gently. Stir and cook garlic slowly, until it has softened, then add your other ingredients to keep the garlic from overcooking.
  2. Adding garlic to the pan midway through cooking over medium heat, so there will be other vegetables to cushion it from the hot pan.
Roasted garlic on wood


Easy Roasted Garlic Recipe

Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 °F.
  2. Slice the top off each garlic bulb and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Wrap loosely in aluminum foil.
  3. Roast garlic bulbs, cut-side up on a baking sheet for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown and tender. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool for 5 minutes.
  4. To extract individual cloves, squeeze from the bottom of the clove towards the top of the garlic head until the clove comes out.
  5. Use roasted garlic cloves immediately as a spread on toast, in mashed potatoes, and more. Store leftovers in a container filled with olive oil in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Garlic oil can be used to make salad dressing.

Find more culinary uses for garlic in Alice Waters’ MasterClass on the art of home cooking.