Obedient Ingredients

A place to put cooking ideas to the test.

Garlic Press Test #1 – Olive Oil

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This post will test the Garlic Press. This is the original experiment that gave me the idea for this blog.

I loved my Garlic Press. I got one several years ago and it was my first special kitchen tool. A gadget that allowed me to easily and quickly smother my food with the most glorious ingredient ever…

Then one day, I talked to a friend who is in the hotel business. She said she and other professionals detest the garlic press! No chef with any self respect would use this crude charlatan device.

Why would no one want to grind up garlic more efficiently?? There must be a reason. Does it have to do with taste? Does the Press transform a clove of garlic into too much garlic awesomeness?

This will be the first of many experiments with the Garlic Press as the focal point. It is clear that the use of a Garlic Press is the quickest way to pulverize cloves of garlic, if that is what your recipe needs (or simply what you desire).

This blog will test how the different preparation styles of garlic will effect the final product.

Today, I tested the Garlic Press and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).

Research

The more you cut up garlic, the stronger the taste. There are a few basic ways of cutting up a clove: crushed, chopped, minced, turned into a paste, and pressed. Here is Jamie Oliver’s video on how to prepare garlic for the beginners out there.

Wikipedia has a good summary of the the Garlic Press debate:

“Garlic crushed by a press is generally believed to have a different flavor from minced garlic; since more cell walls are broken, more of garlic’s strong flavor compounds are liberated…”

Ok, so our results should yield different flavors. The question is which flavor is preferred, or, how are the flavors different? As for the pro-Garlic Press contingent:

“…A few sources prefer the flavor of pressed garlic. Raw-foods chef Renée Underkoffler says “a good garlic press makes dealing with garlic a clean pleasure. Pressed garlic has a lighter, more delicate flavor than minced garlic because it excludes the bitter center stem.” The magazine Cook’s Illustrated says “a good garlic press can break down cloves more finely and evenly than an average cook using a knife, which means better distribution of garlic flavor throughout any given dish.”

And the non-Garlic Press side:

“On the other hand, some chefs say garlic crushed in a press has an inferior flavor compared to other forms of garlic. For instance, chef Anthony Bourdain calls garlic presses “abominations” and advises “don’t put it through a press. I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out of the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic.” The British cookery writer Elizabeth David once wrote an essay titled ‘Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless’;  Alton Brown has expressed suspicion about them on account of their having only one function (being ‘unitask’).”

Should we listen to the celebrity chefs when it comes to the Garlic Press? Of course not! We should test it out ourselves…

The test:

Ingredients: 3 cloves of garlic

8 tablespoons of EVOO

4 clear glasses/bowls

What I did: Peeled each clove and cut off the end. One clove I chopped, not finely mince. The second clove I crushed with the flat edge of my knife. The third clove I pressed.

I put each prepared garlic clove in a glass. Then I poured 2 tablespoons in each cup, plus a fourth cup as a control (I guess it didn’t have to be exactly two tablespoons of olive oil, as long as each cup has the same amount.) I discretely labeled each cup on the bottom, indicating what kind of garlic was used.

Then I let the garlic sit in the EVOO for one hour. Infusion time!

After an hour, I removed the garlic, so just the olive oil remained. With my back turned, I hada friend move the cups around until I wasunable to tell which cup had which type of garlic in it.

My friends and I then taste tested the olive oil. We looked for: coloring, smell, bitterness, strength of garlic, and flavor.

Remember, the oils we were taste testing were:

1) EVOO with chopped garlic.

2) EVOO with crushed garlic.

3) EVOO with pressed garlic.

4) EVOO by itself.

For today’s taste test, I had my girlfriend and two other friends with me. We’ll call ourselves ME, Tester 2, Tester 3 and Tester 4.

We spent several minutes of dunking bread in each glass and using spoons to sip on the oil, while we each wrote our notes down. For one tester, she was confident and finished with her assessment after one try. Me, on the other hand, went through all four cups at least 6 times, writing down my reactions after each sip, and trying to cleanse my pallet with water and bread in between. The other two Testers tried the oil several times before coming to their decisions.

Remember, we did this blind. We did not know what oil we were trying. Once all notes were taken, we revealed which oil was which…

The results:

On sight they all looked the same. So it was all down to how it tasted.

These were not labeled when we were taste testing. Obviously.

There was a clear divide between the oils: the oil that has been infused with CRUSHED and PRESSED garlic was stronger and more flavorful than the oil that has been infused with the CHOPPED garlic and the stand-alone oil. Crushed and Pressed garlic oil were obvious by smell. All four tasters were able to notice this difference.

All four of us actually had trouble figuring out which of the two weaker-tasting oils had no garlic in it. For some, there was a very slight hint of bitterness with the Chopped garlic oil, but I made the mistake of thinking that the Chopped oil was actually the EVOO with no garlic infused.

All four of us were able to discern that the oil infused with Pressed garlic was the strongest. After that, it came down to subtlies and preferences.

All four of us had very similar descriptions of the oil with the Crushed garlic: sweeter, smoother, no bitterness.

All four of us also had similar descriptions of the oil with the Pressed garlic: sharper, spicier, more bitter, strongest.

Conclusion:

The more you break down the cell walls of garlic, the more flavor comes out. For our purposes, the obvious seems true: the more you cut up a clove, the more garlic taste is extracted.

The amount of garlic flavor, measured by our descriptors of “strength” seemed to verify this: the clove that was broken down the most (pressed) was stronger than the clove that was partially broken down (crushed), which was stronger than the clove that only contained sharp cuts (chopped…which we barely were able to taste the garlic).

And some of the celebrity chefs may be on to something: while a Garlic Press may extract the more garlic flavor from a clove, it may either be TOO strong or too bitter. They earned their spot on TV, I suppose.

Interestingly, the four of us tasters did not necessarily agree on which oil was preferable. Some liked the spiciness and bitterness, while others liked the smoothness of the garlic. Some think the strong flavor from the pressed garlic would be good in some dishes, but maybe not for dipping oil (which is essentially what we were doing for the testing).

Final  assessment: If you like a very strong, spicy flavor and are OK with some bitterness, use the Garlic Press in olive oil. If you want a nice garlic flavor but one that doesn’t overpower your oil, crush it.

Future tests:

Like all good experiments, I need to recognize how there were several factors at play which may or may not affect the results. This test also brings up new questions. My quest to better understand food only welcomes more and more questions.

Questions are delicious!

Culinary quandaries that resulted from this garlicy experiment:

– What happens if I upped the infusion time to, say, 5 hours? Would the pressed garlic-oil be too strong?

– What happens if I add a little salt to the oil-garlic infusion? Or another herb like rosemary. Will different states of garlic yeild different results when complimented with another taste?

– Do different garlic preparations make a difference in the final product when heat is applied (baked, sauted, etc) and then added to the oil? Or what if the oil and garlic were heated in the microwave?

– What about garlic paste? And roasted garlic? Store-bought garlic? And different kinds of garlic??

– Does the garlic preparation make a difference in different recipes, like pasta sauce, pesto, chicken marinade, and so on.

Remember, this blog will test all of these questions and more. If you have more Garlic Press or garlic related questions, let me know, and I’ll test them.

Until next time, happy cooking.

4 thoughts on “Garlic Press Test #1 – Olive Oil

  1. Captivating photography and interesting taste test! I learned something new about cooking with garlic!

  2. I love garlic so much I once bet my boyfriend I could eat an entire clove by itself. I did, but then I threw up. They are quite strong. Just thought you should know I haven’t matured in the past 8 years. Great blog, love the name!

  3. Pingback: Brownies Experiment – No oil, no problem « Obedient Ingredients

  4. Creative indeed! You are motivating me to purchase a garlic press~ Tomorrow! I love garlic & have always been a chopper, never a crusher-Too brutal a process as the oils are released unnecessarily before their intended target (my bias). Having read your blog, I am now willing to run the gambit…Thank you!

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