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Garlic: To press or not to press

By Jennifer Armentrout, editor

August 5th, 2009

I've had a garlic press forever, but for some reason, I hardly ever use it.  After dusting it off the other day and squeezing a clove through it in about 10 seconds, I began to wonder why I don't use it more.

In the test kitchen, we rarely use a garlic press, apparently because none of our contributors do either. Most of our recipes come in calling for minced garlic, not pressed.

Adding to my indecision is the debate over whether garlic presses are good for garlic or not. Some say that the press creates a better garlic flavor because it breaks down the cloves more fully, releasing more garlic flavor and producing a fine purée that integrates better with other ingredients. But many chefs shun the press, saying it makes for lousy garlic flavor.

Hoping to taste the difference for myself, I made some garlic bread by splitting a clove in half, then pressing one half and mincing the other by hand. I mixed the garlic with equal amounts of butter and salt, spread it on some crusty bread, and baked it until toasty.

The results couldn't have been more inconclusive. Of the four people who tasted, two thought the pressed garlic bread was stronger and more pungent than the minced.  The other two had exactly the opposite reaction.  Maybe I didn't mix the garlic thoroughly enough into the butter, or I spread it on unevenly. Who knows. My takeaway from this experiment is that the difference is miniscule. In a dish where garlic is not so center-stage, I don't think you'd notice it at all.

So will I use my garlic press more?  Probably, but then, old habits die hard. I'm used to mincing, and though the press makes quicker work of the garlic, it's a pain to clean. 

What do you think?  To press or not to press?

posted in: Blogs, test kitchen, Jennifer Armentrout, garlic, press
Comments (37)

LynPatters writes: I love my press, but I have found that the pressed garlic will turn bitter if cooked on high heat for longer than a minute. Best to slice when flash-cooking. Posted: 6:06 pm on August 26th

joseec1 writes: I don't mince my garlic, and I do not own a garlic press..what I do is smash the garlic with the side of the knife blade, then mince it a little. Been doing that for years, works great for me! Posted: 6:15 pm on July 21st

FrancaV writes: Unless I specifically want the larger, minced pieces or slices for some reason, I use a press. It's fast and easy and "minces" finer than I do with a knife. The flavor is wonderful either way. The press is ridiculously easy to clean. I have the old fashioned kind with separate cleaning tool and a newer one with a hinged attached cleaning tool, but in any case the tool is hardly even necessary if you drop the press immediately into water - the sink if it's all ready for kitchen cleanup, or just a mug full. The garlic never gets a chance stick and is easily removed. Posted: 12:42 pm on June 11th

jennifers writes: I've been using the press more lately. I used to have a gadget to clean it, but it got lost. Guess what? A toothpick by the sink works just as well. Posted: 10:22 pm on June 10th

YvonneRobinson writes: For so long, I didn't use a press. But I recently got a Pampered Chef garlic press and I love it. It has a small tool attached that pushes out anything that is in the holes. Easy! Rinse it and put it in the dish washer.
There are recipes that you would want to press the garlic; it releases the oils, gives a stronger flavor.
I just put on some soup and I chopped the garlic, feeling that it will be cooking in the soup and might be better in small pieces and perhaps not as pungent.
I used the Pampered Chef manual chopper to do this. It made all the difference.
Otherwise, I hate chopping garlic or onion, the chopper makes it quick and simple. Great tools if you like to cook a lot, or not.

Posted: 3:22 pm on March 11th

mkacher writes: I've used both, but I hate the cleanup on the press. I haven't bought another one since the last one broke. Anthony Bourdain said in one of his cook books that if you use a press "you will surely go to hell". Posted: 1:47 pm on August 27th

bakerjase writes: I'm going to ignore the cleaning aspect altogether, as well as the the risk of burning the garlic and say that I've always used a knife with my garlic because I love the connection it gives me with the food. I think that using a knife is important, something that connects you with the food. I know that a garlic press isn't really a high-tech separation from the actual food...but it feels nice to know that so many generations of people in my family have broken and cut it in the same way I am. Posted: 3:58 am on August 21st

StudioCookie writes: I've been using a Lee Valley rasp for years. Easier to use, easier to clean. When frying I prefer to thinly slice garlic. Time?? It's why I time is my chill out time at the end of the day. Posted: 7:34 am on August 13th

sarbego writes: I use my garlic press for ginger as well as garlic. Didn't use it for years; now I use it all the time. For easy cleaning, don't peel the garlic. The skin remains and only the pulp goes through - just lift out with a fork tine. They also come with a cleaner, which I use when I forget and peel. Using the press yields stronger garlic vs. chopping, smashing, or mincing, so... Posted: 4:23 am on August 13th

KNB writes: I am puzzled by complaints about garlic press clean up. I keep an old paring knife dulled by and for the process to scrape off and out whatever garlic clings to the press into my food. Then, under running water, one or two quick cursory pokes with the bristles of a dish washing brush into the "out" end of the press, and into the dishwasher it goes. If I'm in a hurry, I toss the press into a glass or bowl of water in the sink. It'll wait until it's time to do the dishes. I can understand that some folks enjoy the rusticness of mincing, or that some can detect differences in flavor, but cleanup is no impediment with any of the 5 presses I own. Posted: 10:05 pm on August 12th

rdholt writes: Been using a garlic press for years now. Had one of the coated ones that was highly rated years ago but have replaced it with a Kuhn Rikon easy squeeze and love it. Much easier to clean. I do chop garlic when appropriate. Rarely mash with a knife anymore. Posted: 7:40 pm on August 12th

Rodmcfd writes: This discussion is a bit off-beam. In one of the great ironies of nature, raw garlic has very little biological activity. But when you "damage" garlic cloves - by slicing, cooking, or chewing - the enzyme alliinase immediately converts alliin into allicin, which gives garlic its characteristic odor. But what is alliinase?

If garlic had been created in the laboratory instead of by nature, it would probably be a high-priced prescription drug. We all know by now that garlic can lower cholesterol, prevent dangerous blood clots, reduce blood pressure, prevent cancer, and protect against bacterial and fungal infections.

Just what makes garlic so good? Known scientifically as Allium sativum, garlic contains more than 100 biologically useful chemicals, including substances with such strange names as alliin, alliinase, allicin, S-allylcysteine, diallyl sulfide, allyl methyl trisulfide.

Allicin was once thought to be garlic's principal active ingredient. However, researchers now know that allicin is rapidly oxidized. More than 100 biologically active sulfur-containing compounds, proteins, and saponins are created as a result of this oxidation. And they do a power of good.

But depending on how you cut it, and for how long you cook it, the active stuff in garlic changes to give different benefits. So my rule is to cut it, squash it, slice it, squeeze it, cook it whole ... as many different ways as possible according to the meal, and sometimes adding at the end of the cooking, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the start, often twice during the cooking. The taste does not much depend on how you cut it, but it does depend on how ling you cook it. And the benefits follow the same pattern. So, with garlic - no rules. Do whatever, and as varied as possible. Posted: 6:57 pm on August 12th

msoren8040 writes: We almost always press and can't say we've noticed a difference. Posted: 6:50 pm on August 12th

bluestocking writes: I use my garlic press all the time. Maybe it's because I'm not great with my knife skills- but regardless, it's indispensible in my kitchen. I don't find it a pain to clean up. Definitely in the front of my utility drawer! Posted: 6:36 pm on August 12th

jackielee writes: I poo pooed the press for decades. Feeling pressured to buy something, anything, at a friend hosted Pampered Chef party, I bought theirs. And have never looked back. I love it! Posted: 6:24 pm on August 12th

karlawar4648 writes: As a former professional chef, I used to never press- we would peel the cloves then mash with fork tines and a pinch of salt- we were too proud of taking the longest possible way to do anything- I used to roast my own green coffee beans! And now I use the press- a very old heavy weight Ecko one- for either pressed or minced. I can add more if its not strong enough and it is so simple and quick. Posted: 6:00 pm on August 12th

Itsgigi writes: I can't remember when I didn't have or use a garlic press. For many cooked dishes I do mince the garlic (using the included cup with the Braun immersable blender is great for several cloves or even ginger), but for salad dressings or smooth sauces, I don't like to bite into pieces of garlic so I mince. I think it gives a better flavor to uncooked mixtures but as so many of the comments state, it is personal preference. I will positively state that this is one utensil I will never be without! Posted: 5:44 pm on August 12th

Anne99 writes: I use mine to squoosh anchovies for dressings and such. The bones stay behind in the hopper. (I also use it for garlic, of course, though sometimes I just chop it.) Posted: 5:10 pm on August 12th

Jolka writes: Can't cook without it. No problem with cleaning as it goes into the dishwasher. But not all the garlic presses are equal and some are indeed awful to use and clean. A good one is priceless and there is no way I could live without one. Posted: 5:08 pm on August 12th

cavigdor writes: Could NOT live without a garlic press. In fact, we have 3 so when we're all cooking there are plenty to go around!
They get rinsed and thrown in the dishwasher - easy and clean. You can put clove after clove in the press without removing the skin each time, then it all comes out once.Only slice garlic when adding to hot oil for brushing my eggplant. Wood cutting boards should not absorb the smell of food products unless they're dry. Keeping it in shape with a food grade mineral oil (kitchen stores sell it) eliminates the problem. Oil once a month if used a lot, or when it looks like dull wood. Posted: 5:06 pm on August 12th

GoreMay writes: My general rule of thumb is that if the garlic is going into sauces, or is going to be subjected to heat such as in a roasting or saute pan, I always mince the garlic. My experience is that heat can make pressed garlic bitter and often burned. On the other hand if garlic is going into a marinade or cold sauce I use the press. Pressed garlic distributes the garlic flavor better in cold or low heat uses. What little of the garlic that sticks to the meat after marinading is not enough to effect the taste. Posted: 4:55 pm on August 12th

nhammer writes: I no longer own a garlic press. Terrible waste of time, effort and cleaning. Learn to use a knife. I have heard that the best garlic bread is made from garlic juice, for which you would need a press. I don't know of any other situation where I would use one. Posted: 4:52 pm on August 12th

lpc writes: I usually just chop the garlic with a knife. The press is just too hard to clean. Then I discovered the Microplane. Now I grate the garlic with the Microplane when I want fine garlic. Posted: 4:40 pm on August 12th

isabellesophia writes: Has anyone tried the Starfrit garlic press? It's fantastic and VERY easy to clean. I can't live without mine. Posted: 4:21 pm on August 12th

Ricksbabe2 writes: I always use my Pampered Chef garlic press for two reasons.
First, my knife skills leave a lot to be desired and I am afraid that I will mistake the end of my finger for the garlic. Secondly, the Papered Chef garlic press is the best ever, hand down. You do not need to take the skin off first or cut it up, unless it is too large for the basket. When you squeeze it together the garlic shoots out leaving the husk behing. Cleaning is easy too. There is a nifty little device that come with the garlic press that fits on the outside and goes through the little holes, pushing the garlic out of the holes and you can easily rinse them right out. Just takes a few seconds. Posted: 4:01 pm on August 12th

ccdrake writes: I occasionally use the press, but everytime I do I regret it as it is almost impossible to clean! I have never been able to discern a difference in taste and am comfortable using my knives...I kind of enjoy it as a matter of fact. So I do use it perhaps when I happen to notice it in the drawer and then live to regret it as I bring out the toothbrush to get it clean! Posted: 4:01 pm on August 12th

Sharon76 writes: I always use my garlic press unless it says to slice the garlic. The best garlic press is the one with the handy cleaner on the opposite end. If any garlic is left behind, just use the back of the blade from a paring knife to dislodge the garlic. Posted: 3:56 pm on August 12th

auntieliz writes: For just one clove I use my rasp which is easier to clean but pretty much mashes the garlic. My press makes tiny bits of garlic which is usually fine. I hate chopping garlic by hand and cleaning the cutting board so there are no flavour transfers. Posted: 3:51 pm on August 12th

chef_les writes: I don't like the cleaning, however, when you need a small amount of garlic in a puree state, the press is perfect. Also, I feel that the flavor layers you develop by mincing and cooking in sauces, etc. is different than jumping to adding a pureed (pressed) garlic or the crushed garlic you can buy in jars. Posted: 3:48 pm on August 12th

lisapag writes: I can't believe this is even debated! Maybe it's just my horrendous knife skills, but it would easily take me ten times as long to mince the garlic myself. It takes seconds to press a clove of garlic, and I've never noticed a difference with flavor. As for the clean-up issue, it's far easier to rinse my press and toss it in the dishwasher than it would be to painstakingly mince by hand. Posted: 3:33 pm on August 12th

DawnP writes: Rosle Garlic Press -- not a pain to clean (the basket swings clear from the rest of the press to just run under water, and dishwasher safe), heavy stainless steel, basket can hold 2 medium or 1 really large clove, last one you'll buy. Only down side is that it's pricey! Posted: 3:29 pm on August 12th

el_carpentero writes: I use it for marinades. Posted: 3:23 pm on August 12th

cookinnut writes: I have two garlic presses, neither have been out of the drawer in years -- most likely since the time my knife skills improved to the point where they became more effort than their worth........ and don't get me started on the cleanup issue !!! LOL
In the 'transition' period, I never noticed a difference between pressed and minced in applications...
b Posted: 3:15 pm on August 12th

poppysquash2 writes: I cannot live without my garlic press. I think I've had this one for about 17 years, and it still keeps on pressing! It is the perfect thing for salad dressings; otherwise, little bits of garlic could be a mouthful. I just find this a bit more refined. I think the various gradations play a part in how potent a dose one wants. So I use everything to get this neat little item dispersed; from the back of a big knife for a big smacked wad, the blade for neat chops, to the press! Posted: 3:14 pm on August 12th

aunty_em writes: wether you mince by hand or mince by pressing, the garlic is cut into. it's like tasting a difference between a brown egg and a white egg...the only difference is the shell. i put mine in a glass of hot water and a drop of soap when i'm finished with it. it sits until the dish is prepared and i'm cleaning up. then it's just a simple rinse. Posted: 3:11 pm on August 12th

Iheartcumin writes: I read somewhere that mincing garlic is a better choice if you're going to add it to a hot pan, because it's less likely to burn than pressed garlic. I wish I could remember where I saw that - - I am now in the habit of mincing it only when I'm going to add it to, say, hot oil, but I've never paid too much attention to how much this has mattered. I like the press otherwise. Posted: 8:29 am on August 8th

Vosper writes: Hi, I don't use mine because is another thing to clean up. I'm already using a cutting board and a knife, so why even bother. So I go for not to press. Posted: 9:50 am on August 6th

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