How Mincing Affects The Taste Of Garlic

In the Martin Scorsese film "Goodfellas," prison for Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) and his gang of mobsters was like a visit to Club Fed, with the men all housed together in one cell block, cooking elaborate Italian American red-table-cloth restaurant-worthy meals every evening. Paulie (played by Paul Sorvino) made the Sunday gravy, slicing the garlic with a razor blade so thin that, according to Liotta's voice over, the shavings liquified in the pan. Turns out, Paulie was on to something.

According to NPR, cutting into produce affects its chemistry; and cutting into garlic or onions releases the enzyme alliinase. It is this reaction that gives the alliums their pungent aroma and distinct taste.

The Encyclopedia of Food and Health (via ScienceDirect) explains that alliinase contains sulfur compounds. Per the Kitchn, the more cuts to the garlic, the more sulfur is released. The Garlic Farm Isle of Wight breaks it down further, explaining that the sulfur compound, allicin, is only made when two of the compounds in garlic, alliin and alliinase, interact. This chemical reaction only happens when the garlic clove's cells are disrupted, like with slicing, crushing, and mincing. The more the garlic is broken down, the more allicin is produced, which means the stronger the garlicky flavor. That's why minced paste has such strong tang, while using a whole clove imparts a subtler taste.

How you slice garlic changes its flavor

The Garlic Farm Isle of Wight further notes that when it comes to garlic, preparation matters. Cooking destroys the allicin compound, mellowing out garlic's taste. For a strong garlic flavor, it recommends adding garlic at the end of cooking rather than sautéing it at the start. Since acid also stunts alliinase, when adding it to a vinaigrette, let the garlic mince sit for a bit, giving the allicin compound time to form before adding it to the dressing.

The Kitchn offers a handy guide on what cuts to consider for recipes. The outlet recommends giving cloves a quick smash before adding to slow-cooking items like stews and braises, since the garlic cells have plenty of time to break down in cooking. Sautés can use sliced garlic, with the yummy suggestion of using the pan-fried, crunchy garlic chips as a recipe topper. Grated or minced garlic is best saved for salad dressing, since cooking such tiny pieces can impart a bitter flavor to the bulb.

As Charles Forney, a physiologist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explained to NPR, "The enzymatic reaction forms the flavor [of the garlic] — so the more finely it's cut, the more flavor that will be released."