Spices & Seasonings/Garlic

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Question
Hi Adam

Is there a way to tell, in the store, if the garlic you are about to purchase has flavor?  There seems to be an epidemic of flavorless garlic in my town.

Thanks.

Pete

Answer
Well, there are a few things you can look out for, but in general there really shouldn't be that much variation in garlic heads you buy from a supermarket.  Different subspecies of garlic can have different potency, but almost all of this garlic commonly commercially available is one of a few very similar standard types.  The age of the garlic and the way you use it can have drastic effect its pungency as well.

If a head of garlic is soft, has dark spots, or feels loose then it is likely suffering from decay, and the flavor may be negatively affected.  

If you see small shoots out of the top of your garlic, or if the center of a clove has a very dark round spot in the middle, then the plant is sprouting and is past the point when it is ideal to eat it.  It can still be used at this point, but it may get bitter and won't be as potent.

Due to the physical and chemical structure of garlic, the more you cut it, the stronger the flavor will be.  However, as garlic sits, it looses flavor - if you let a portion of chopped garlic sit in the refrigerator overnight, a great deal of it's flavor molecules will literally escape into the air while you sleep.

If you want pungent ("hot") flavor out of your garlic, mince it very fine (A small grater or Microplane works well for this) and use it right away.

Some specialty markets sell different varieties of garlic.  I've found purple garlic at local Asian markets, and Hispanic markets generally carry it as well.  You will also see something called Elephant Garlic, which is much much bigger than standard garlics, but also much less potent.  Elephant Garlic is great for roasting, or for adding strong garlic flavor without overwhelming pungency.

Also, if you have any bent for gardening, garlic tends to be an easy crop to manage.  You should be able to uncover a large variety of heirloom or specialty types of garlic to experiment with if you're patient.

Here's a little more information about different types of garlic, though it approaches the subject from the growers perspective, not the cooks.
http://nwrec.hort.oregonstate.edu/garlic.html

Hope this helps!

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Adam Price

Expertise

I can answer general and specific questions related to all manner of food preparation, food cookery, and peripheral disciplines such as applied food science, nutrition, or sanitation. I am knowledgeable in meat, poultry and seafood fabrication, recipe development, world cuisines including 'fusion' styles, and all of the primary cooking methods (grilling, steaming, etc.). I can assist you with developing or redesigning recipes, planning for events (from a caterers point of view), troubleshooting recipes, identifying and working with unfamiliar ingredients or cooking methods, or (most importantly in my opinion) figuring out exactly why things happen the way they do. If we understand the science and reasoning behind our craft, then we can start learning how to cook instead of learning to recreate recipes. If for some reason I cannot answer a question, I will do my best to point you toward a source that can.

Experience

I have nearly two decades of experience as a professional in the field, and I enjoy experimenting with new ideas on my own time. I have worked in restaurants ranging from quick service to fine dining, bakeries, butcher shops and institutions. I have done event planning and execution for large and small scale catered events. I have managed several kitchens and developed menus ranging from simple buffets to elaborate multi-course meals. I have an extensive library of recipe books as well as books on cooking techniques, food science, food safety, and nutrition.

Education/Credentials
I graduated with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park). I am ServSafe certified for food safety and sanitation, and I take this very seriously.

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