I remember the first time I saw a chef use a microplane grater to finely mince a clove of garlic. He was making mayonnaise, and in just a few seconds the clove had dissolved into a fine puree that fell directly into the mixing bowl below. I was blown away, and from that day forward, it was one more trick in my garlic-prep pocket.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was working on a shrimp scampi recipe, and, for speed, I ran some of my garlic through a microplane. When I dropped it into the pan of hot oil, I felt a searing sensation in my nose, like a strong hit of wasabi, and my eyes began to water. It tasted even worse, with a bitter flavor that ruined the shrimp.
The fact that microplaned garlic is more pungent than minced isn’t particularly shocking in and of itself. We all know that garlic’s intensity in a dish isn’t just dependent on how much garlic there is, but also how it’s been prepared: a single whole clove will deliver less intensity than a crushed one, a crushed clove will be milder than a sliced clove, and a sliced one isn’t as pungent as a chopped or pureed one—the more cells we rupture when cutting garlic, the more potent it is.
What shocked me, though, was the degree of difference between finely minced garlic and grated garlic. The microplaned garlic wasn’t just more intense than minced, it was downright noxious. You could defeat an army with its mustard gas-like punch.
I’ve been curious about this effect ever since, so I decided to dig a little deeper with some more focused testing. The results are helpful, because they shed light on just how important the mincing method can be. Deciding whether to finely chop, crush in a mortar and pestle, pass through a garlic press, or reach for that microplane isn’t just a question of which you find most convenient: it can have a major effect on how your food tastes.