Yes, you read that right. I believe that jarred garlic has been unfairly maligned. There are few food products that inspire such intense distaste — do a Google search for “jarred garlic,” and you’ll be subjected to post after post and article after article lamenting jarred garlic and everything it stands for. It’s lazy! They all seem to scream. Just mince your own garlic!
Look, the jarred garlic haters are onto something. There’s a perceptible difference between jarred garlic and the fresh stuff. Fresh garlic has a much stronger flavor with more of a spicy kick to it. By contrast, the jarred variety is lacking in flavor, missing the strength you enjoy from that just-minced clove you use when you’re trying to get the strongest garlic flavor possible. That’s because garlic is at its most flavorful right when it’s been sliced into. The longer you let it sit around, the longer those pungent flavors develop, turning more bitter, losing their strength. That’s why, when you’re preparing a garlic-heavy recipe you really want to turn out well, you probably should use the fresh stuff.
But the absolutely avid jarred garlic hate we all face on at least a weekly basis on the internet has to stop. It makes me think that some of you have never been forced to feed yourself when you’re sick, or depressed, or just busy handling life.
Ultimately, jarred garlic is a convenience item. Just like you might keep a frozen pizza or frozen dumplings in your freezer instead of making them from scratch every single time you have a craving, jarred garlic is there for when you need to take a shortcut. I think that the vast majority of people who use jarred garlic know that it’s not as good as fresh garlic. But, alas, sometimes you have to get dinner on the table quickly, and this is when jarred garlic becomes an essential time-saver. I don’t know how many times I would’ve skipped the garlic completely (or opted for powdered garlic — inarguably worse than the jarred stuff) if I hadn’t already had an open jar of garlic waiting for me in the fridge.
There was a time in my life, when I was in college, that I felt constantly stressed. Working, taking classes and trying to take care of myself was a challenge I didn’t yet feel mature enough to take on. And I was, frankly, depressed. Managing to feed myself at all felt like a huge accomplishment, especially considering the fact that I didn’t have the funds to order in or buy a ton of pre-made food from the grocery store. During this time, jarred garlic was a staple for me. Yes, I had to add an unholy amount to my marinara sauce to achieve what perhaps two or three cloves of the fresh stuff would have done to the dish, but when I felt barely able to turn the stove on, it did its job, leaving me with a slightly more flavorful finished dish so I wasn’t forced to eat Kraft mac and cheese once again.
I believe that the war against convenience foods like jarred garlic ultimately comes from a deep misunderstanding of the place food occupies in most peoples’ lives. For diehard food people who spend their weekends working on hours-long cooking projects, sure, garlic in a jar is less than desirable. But most people do not live that life. For many, if not most, cooking is just an essential part of survival, a task to check off the list. Even those who love food, who spend much of their time thinking about it, don’t always have the time or the money to choose the best, freshest ingredients and prepare everything from scratch. Why are we so insistent that home cooks are failing if they ever use jarred, canned or frozen products?
Of course, there are mental and emotional problems that can render the constant use of fresh garlic unrealistic for many home cooks, but too often, we forget that not everyone operates in the kitchen in the same ways. A wide range of physical disabilities can make mincing garlic an impossible or near-impossible task. Should people with these disabilities be shamed for using more accessible products that make their lives easier?
It is true that the U.S. obsession with convenience has led to an overwhelming supply of subpar food products on store shelves, many of which are objectively unhealthy. But jarred garlic is the least of our problems on that front. Sure, if you’re cooking a dish that includes garlic and you want to make sure it comes out as delicious and fresh-tasting as possible, you should definitely use fresh. But all of us jarred garlic users demand justice for our depression foods, our lazy day meals and our accessibility-friendly recipes. Long live jarred garlic.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.