Why is Garlic Spicy?


Reading Time: 7 minutes

Garlic, among condiments, holds a polarized position in the culinary world. Some people absolutely adore it, while others can’t even stand a hint of it in their meals.

By understanding why garlic is spicy and how to bring out its taste and nutritional value in various dishes, you can begin to enjoy cooked garlic, spicy or not.

What is Garlic?

Before we delve into whether garlic is spicy, it is important to understand what it is.

Garlic as A Crop

Garlic belongs to the same class of plants known as allium. It is the same group of plants featuring onions, leeks, shallots, and chives.

Garlic is a crop that grows underground. After planting, the root of a garlic seedling soon bulks up, forming whole bulbs as it nears maturity. Next, the short section of the seedling grows into several green leafy shoots.

Many people do not know that garlic leaves are spicy too and can be eaten. They are known as scrapes, and when cooked, they give off a delicate, if not spicy, garlic flavor.

Garlic Cloves

Each garlic bulb is covered with a series of thin, papery skins. When you peel off this skin, you will find between ten and twenty wedge-shaped parts. These are the garlic cloves.

Each garlic clove is covered by a thin papery skin as well. This skin should only be peeled off as the garlic is being prepared for cooking.

Owing to these multiple layers of skin protection, garlic can be stored for a long time without spoiling. So whether you love to eat garlic raw or cooked up, you are certain to find your cloves fresh, even if they have been in your pantry for months.

Because each bulb of garlic is made of so many cloves, it is easy to take out just what is enough for your meal at a time. Even a single garlic bulb can be sufficient for multiple meals over many days.

Garlic Varieties

Garlic is one of the most diverse crops cultivated around the world. There are two main varieties of garlic:

1. Softneck garlic and

2. Hardneck garlic

The neck here refers to the part of the garlic which grows upward from the bulb.

Softneck Garlic

The soft in soft neck garlic is because these garlic varieties have multiple leaves extending upwards from the point where the underground bulb forms. These leaves remain delicate and soft from the seedling stage to the maturity of the garlic plant.

Softneck garlic is the most common type of garlic. If you bought your garlic bulbs at the grocery store, you most likely purchased soft neck garlic.

Softneck garlic is the kind of garlic grown in the world’s warm and mild climatic regions. It has a much longer shelf life compared to hard neck garlic. Many chefs also prefer Softneck garlic varieties because they have a much more mild and distinct flavor profile.

Hardneck Garlic

Unlike soft neck garlic, soft neck garlic features a single stalk from the center of the bulb, which turns rigid at maturity.

Hardneck garlic varieties are more suited to grow in the world’s cold, temperate climatic regions. They have a much shorter shelf life and are rarely grown for the mass market.

Compared to soft neck garlic, the hard neck types have a more complex spicy flavor profile. Those who are more familiar with their taste and flavor can tell the subtle overtones which reflect the area and climactic conditions under which they were grown.

Why is Garlic Spicy?

The spicy odor of allium plants comes from a class of sulfur compounds. In garlic, the spicy flavor can be attributed to a particular sulfur compound called allicin.

The Role of Soil in Making Garlic Spicy

How spicy garlic bulbs end up depends on the soil in which they were grown. If the soil is free of sulfur salts and compounds, the harvested garlic will be almost without any flavor.

Garlic grown in different parts of the world has different spice or flavor profiles. The food culture in these different areas has been developed to make the most of the flavors the local varieties of garlic offers.

Does Garlic Give a Spicy Burning Sensation on the Tongue?

It is true that garlic has a definite spicy sensation you can detect on your tongue. That said, this spicy sensation is not as pronounced as that of other hot vegetable condiments such as chili peppers.

If you taste chopped or crushed garlic cloves, your tongue will feel a slight burning sensation. How mild or acute that burning sensation is, depends on the variety of garlic as well as the soil in which it has been grown.

Some people are a lot more sensitive to the spicy flavors of garlic than others. This and other factors mean it is almost impossible to tell beforehand just what kind of spicy or burning sensation you will get when you eat garlic.

How Cooking Garlic Affects the Flavor

Most people find raw garlic spicy to a higher degree than they find cooked garlic. The oily, spicy sulfur compounds responsible for giving garlic its characteristic flavor burn easily under heat.

With heat, garlic loses much of the spicy tinge of its flavor. Under high heat, the characteristic pungency of raw garlic bulbs will be gone.

Making a garlic sauce with just a hint of garlic flavor requires that you chop the garlic cloves to small pieces first. Fry the chopped garlic under high heat for about thirty seconds before adding it to your sauce and stirring everything up.

The more you cook garlic, the more the spicy flavor gets mellow. If you cook it for a really long time, the spiciness will be reduced to a tangy note.

How to Make Garlic Less Spicy

Some varieties of garlic can be very spicy. Some people find it almost impossible to take food cooked with fresh garlic owing to the starkness of the spicy flavor. The following are some tips you can follow to make it less

The Cream Can Help Tone Down the Spiciness of Garlic

Cream helps in toning down the bite of garlic spicy flavors. Those who have tried this approach concede that both sour and heavy cream are effective.

For many people, the choice of either heavy or sour cream depends on the particular dish they are cooking. Just as well, sour cream works better in masking certain garlic flavors, while heavy cream is suited for other varieties.

You need to be cautious if you add sour cream to liquid foods such as soups and sauces. If the soup or sauce is hot or even warm, sour cream is likely to disperse, and your bid to mask spicy garlic flavor will not work.

To avoid issues when working with sour cream to temper garlic spicy flavors, you must first temper the cream. Please place it in a bowl and stir it up thoroughly, so it is evenly thin without lumps.

After thinning out your cream, you can now begin mixing it with the soup or sauce you want to temper. Do not pour the cream into the soup or sauce. Instead, ladle a bit of the sauce or soup and keep stirring until you get a smooth, free-flowing cream mix or emulsion.

Roast Garlic to Lessen Its Spicy Flavor

By roasting garlic, you can lessen the bite of the spicy overtones in its flavor. It is a lot more practical to roast cut garlic than when the cloves have either been minced or crushed to a finely consistent paste.

While roasting garlic reduces the spicy overtones of its flavor, it also brings out more of the understated garlic taste to the fore.

Is It Okay to Eat Raw Garlic?

In most cases, garlic is only added to recipes after it has been cooked in some form, whether that is by being sautéed, roasted, or baked. This makes it common for people less familiar with the qualities and uses of garlic to wonder whether it is safe to consume raw garlic.

Raw garlic will, as a matter of course, have a spicier and pungent flavor than when it is cooked. This often means you can use much less garlic to spice up your food if you opt to add it raw than when it is cooked.

Eating raw garlic is considered a safe and even enjoyable culinary experience. There is considerable evidence that raw garlic could offer more beneficial health benefits than cooked garlic.

There are many dishes that are specifically intended to contain raw garlic as an ingredient. These include a variety of dips, sauces, and dressings.

Is Garlic Spicier Than Chili Peppers?

Chili peppers have a hot spicy bite because they contain an organic compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is not found in any of the known varieties of garlic, whether hard neck or soft neck. Thus, while garlic is spicy in its own way, eating garlic raw or cooked will not give you the burning sensation pepper will induce on your tongue, lips, and mouth.

As such, garlic is not less or more spicy than chili peppers. It is spicy in a different way compared to chili.

Is Garlic Powder as Nutritious and Spicy as Raw Garlic?

If you are cautious about raw garlic to avoid its smell and stickiness, you can opt to go for garlic powder instead. Garlic powder can be added directly to your dishes without the unpleasant experience of cutting, chopping, or crushing the fresh garlic cloves.

Garlic powder is made by drying chopped garlic cloves and grinding them to a flour-like consistency. This smooth consistency allows garlic powder to be added to almost any recipe.

Many people find garlic powder spicy to a greater extent than either chopped, crushed, or minced garlic.

Here are some of the uses for garlic powder

  • Sprinkle it on buttered bread to make garlic-flavored bread
  • Add the powder to the soup for garlic-flavored seasoning
  • Give your salads a garlic punch by sprinkling a light dusting of garlic powder on top
  • A sprinkling of garlic powder on taco meat livens up the flavor profile

Is Powdered Garlic the Same as Granulated Garlic?

Powdered garlic is not the same as granulated garlic. While first drying cloves make both granulated garlic and garlic powder of garlic, granulated garlic is ground to a sand consistency instead of a finer flour-like consistency of the powder.

The main difference between powdered and granulated garlic is the size of the granules. The granulated ones are much larger.

Because powdered granules are much smaller, you need a bit less of the powder to achieve the same level of spicy flavor as granulated garlic. While you would need something like a quarter tablespoon of granulated garlic to replicate the flavoring of one garlic clove, you would need about a sixth of a tablespoon if you are using the powder.

Some Suggested Uses of Granulated Garlic

Here are some tried, tested, and proven ways to enjoy granulated garlic as a flavoring and spicy condiment on a number of tasty delights:

  • Sprinkle some granules on a slice of hot pizza. The granules will serve to complement the umami flavors found in the cheese
  • Add a dollop of granulated garlic into your bowl of chowder and stir it all up. The end result is a soupy delight with all the flavors given a tangy boost
  • Give your rack of ribs on the smoker a zesty garlic complement by sprinkling some of the granules into your dry rub
  • Add an even more pronounced crunch and unique texture to your breadsticks by coating them with granulated garlic prior to baking

To answer the question of why garlic is spicy requires a look at the chemical compounds garlic bulbs pack in from the soil. As there are many varieties of garlic, so are there spicy overtones found in different garlic cloves.

If you want to lessen garlic’s spicy taste, there are some effective remedies to help you out. It is also worth keeping in mind that how you cook garlic can alter the flavor profile of your dishes, making them even more appealing to your taste buds.