What To Consider When Using Small Vs Big Garlic Cloves In A Recipe

Recipes can be confusing, especially when the measurements are a bit unclear. Take garlic as an example. We know that garlic cloves are rarely the same size, so when a recipe calls for a certain number of cloves, what's that about? In most cases, it's safe to assume the recipe writer is thinking of a medium-sized clove, and they rely on you to make that judgment. And when it comes to garlic, going a little lighter or heavier on the flavor is unlikely to make a huge difference in the outcome for the majority of recipes.

Now that we've cleared up the recipe writing dilemma, it's worth considering just why garlic cloves are so variable. Like many other culinary plants, there is a wide range of garlic varieties. What you find at your local store or farmer's market will usually reflect what's available in the area and in season, although garlic is also imported, largely from China, all year round. Garlic heads can produce 16 or more cloves inside, or as few as five depending on the variety.

Finding the right whole bulb of garlic

Whole heads of garlic can be a great choice to have on hand because they stay fresh on the counter for up to an amazing six months. If you know you love to use garlic in your recipes, this is a great way to ensure you always have the fragrant allium on hand. Since it's no fun to peel tons of tiny garlic cloves, look for a bulb that has visible outer cloves that indicate how large they are. The types of garlic with the largest cloves are called hard neck, and you might be able to see a visible hard stalk in the middle. Even if it's been trimmed, you will notice that the part left is firm and fairly solid. Soft neck garlic has a much more flexible and slimmer middle stalk, and you'll see the outer layer of cloves are small and tightly packed.

If you have a head of garlic with lots of small cloves, don't despair. You can peel a handful of cloves by giving them a soak in water. And if you're searching for more tips, our ideas for peeling garlic like a pro should set you on the right track. You might even find those small cloves to be an advantage for recipes where you only need a pinch of garlic, too.