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Experiment: Bringing Out the Best in Garlic Powder

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2014

We devised a quick test to find out if we could coax more flavor from garlic powder by treating it as we would a spice.

Garlic powder, which is simply dehydrated garlic that’s ground to a powder, has never jumped out at us as a particularly potent form of garlic flavor, but when we were developing our Garlic-Parmesan Mashed Potatoes (see related content), we decided to explore all our options, including this ingredient. Knowing that the primary flavor in garlic is not only water-soluble but fat-soluble, we devised a quick test to find out if we could coax more flavor from garlic powder by treating it as we would a spice: blooming it in fat before adding it to the recipe.

EXPERIMENT

For one batch of mashed potatoes, we added 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder straight from the jar. For the second batch, we sautéed an equal amount of garlic powder in butter and then stirred it into the potatoes. We asked tasters to compare the garlic in each sample.

RESULTS

The potatoes with untreated garlic powder tasted harsh and garlicky but not particularly complex, similar to what you’d find with raw minced garlic, while the batch with garlic powder that had been sautéed in butter had almost no garlic flavor at all. How could it be that sautéing the powder in butter not only didn’t lead to more complex flavor but seemed to lessen its flavor?

EXPLANATION

A little research in formed us that here was more going on here than the garlic flavor’s solubility in water and fat. Garlic develops flavor when its cells are ruptured, releasing an odorless sulfur-containing amino acid called alliin and the enzyme alliinase. These two react to produce the primary flavor component in garlic: allicin (which is soluble in both fat and water). Garlic powder producers are careful to dry garlic at temperatures low enough to remove water without destroying alliinase, which will happen at temperatures higher than 140 degrees. Once the water has been removed, the enzyme exists in an inactive state. Only with the reintroduction of water does alliinase “wake up” and begin producing allicin.

Adding garlic powder as-is to the mashed potatoes allowed the powder to hydrate in the potatoes’ natural moisture, so allicin was able to form. The sample with garlic powder sautéed in butter, on the other hand, tasted dull because the alliinase had been exposed to high heat and thus any chance of allicin forming was eliminated.

TAKEAWAY

It’s important to first “wake up” the dormant flavor-producing enzyme in garlic powder by hydrating it—and to avoid heating the powder before doing so since that will destroy the enzyme.

With this in mind, we came up with the following approach to bringing out the most flavor from garlic powder for our mashed potatoes: We first hydrated 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder in an equal amount of water, which reactivated the alliinase and allowed allicin to form, and then sautéed the hydrated powder in butter before stirring it into the potatoes, which contributed the most complex garlic flavor.

In sum, when using garlic powder, for the fullest flavor hydrate it in an equal amount of water and then sauté it in fat before adding it to your dish.