Why is garlic in so many savory dishes?

In the EYB Cookbook Club, member Alicia F recently made Marcella Hazan’s simple-yet-wonderful tomato sauce. She observed that the sauce is quite delicious as is, but that she thinks “it would be better with garlic.” This prompted several other members to chime in, agreeing with her assessment (as well as offering variations of their own). Not everyone is enamored with the pungent allium, however, with one reader of The Guardian writing the newspaper to ask why just about every savoury recipe calls for garlic.


Garlic adds a huge punch of flavor, so it’s no wonder that many recipes – especially vegetarian and vegan ones – use it to boost a dish’s flavor profile. But it can be a lazy way to add a strong taste that can overwhelm more subtle ingredients. Feast columnist Anna Jones agrees: “There’s an overuse of garlic in cooking in general, and in vegetarian cooking especially,” she says. “I like to keep some meals more gently flavoured, so leave it out altogether. More subtle dishes don’t need garlic, and that should be celebrated.”

She and others offered alternatives that will still add zing to a dish without overpowering it. Suggestions included paprika, dried oregano, Marmite, or a dash of acid like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. A touch of sweetness can help too, through palm sugar, maple syrup, or honey. Garlic lovers, feel free to add as many cloves as you wish, but Jones suggests that you think about what the dish really needs. “Sometimes, garlic is not at all what’s missing, or needed,” she notes. 

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  • BethNH  on  March 25, 2019

    Lately it seems that garlic is added to every recipe. I’ve had enough. More often than not I’ve stopped using garlic and enjoy my dishes far more without it.

  • vickster  on  March 26, 2019

    My Italian grandmother made the best tomato sauce I ever had and I watched her when I was young but unfortunately did not record what she did so I can't duplicate it. But it was very basic, and Marcella Hazan's is the closest I can come. I remember her using canned tomatoes, butter, and no garlic. It was addictive!

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