For love of garlic

I believe there is no such a thing as too much garlic. I tend to double or triple the amount of garlic in a recipe without batting an eye.  I’ll take garlic in almost any dish or form, including raw  on a loaf of bread (aka “roman soldier” style, or so I read in a book once).

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to buy eight heads of garlic for my ScienceFare experiment this week.  I was hoping the clerk would ask what it was for, just so I could ramble excitedly to a stranger about my love for garlic.  (Didn’t happen. This is apparently not as sketchy as, say, twenty pounds of corn starch, but that’s a different story).

With all this garlic eating, I’m on a constant hunt to improve the most annoying part of the process: garlic peeling.  The classic technique of smashing the clove of garlic by putting your fist over a knife (see picture below) has been pretty effective.  But then I came across this  video* on Saveur, where garlic was peeled using impact forces from banging them against the metal bowls.  And then I heard about silicone tubes, which peel garlic using frictional forces between the garlic and silicone. And then I realized, I needed to know exactly what was the fastest way to peel a clove of garlic – by crushing, impact, or friction – which brought me to the supermarket and 8 heads of garlic.

So, first test, which technique is fastest?

Test 1: IMPACT vs. FRICTION vs. CRUSHING

IMPACT- imagine drastic bowl shaking.

FRICTION

SMASHING

I timed how fast it took to peel a single clove using each of the three techniques mentioned above: 1) IMPACT (the mixing bowl technique), 2) FRICTION (the silicone technique), and 3) SMASHING (the knife technique).  You can see the results in the table below (values in seconds).

IMPACTFRICTIONSMASHING
444.320.7
60+4.64.0
60+5.78.1
4.76.4
5.510.3

The silicone friction technique proved the fastest and most consistent of all the techniques for peeling a single clove. The classic knife smashing technique was a little slower on average, and a bit less consistent- some cloves can be tricky to peel this way.  The mixing bowl impact technique featured on Saveur was definitely the slowest.  I stopped two of the trials after a minute without a peeled garlic clove because, frankly, my arms were tired.

The clear winner on speed is the silicone tube and friction. Additionally, the mixing bowls were not consistently good at peeling a single clove, but I didn’t want to give up on the bowls just yet. The Saveur video involved throwing a whole head of garlic into the bowl at once. Does the impact technique perhaps work better in bulk?

Test 2: The IMPACT technique in bulk

IMPACT, in bulk

I threw half a head of garlic into two steel mixing bowls, and shook the begebus out of them for 15 seconds. Amazingly, 56% of the garlic was fully peeled after a rough shaking!  Disappointingly, 44% of the garlic was right where I left it 15 second before, skins intact. So it did work better in bulk, but still not all of the cloves got peeled.

Disappointing results, but there are several differences between how I am doing the impact technique, and how the editor on Saveur did the technique.  Perhaps I’m just doing it wrong?

Test 3: The IMPACT technique revisited, aka is my kitchen defective?

The tools of an average kitchen.

Because I don’t live in an industrial kitchen, I don’t own two giant metal mixing bowls like they do on Saveur, but perhaps that is the key to the impact technique.  Metal is quite strong, and the larger mixing bowls give the garlic more space to accelerate and impact the walls of the bowls, potentially providing greater forces and “peeling efficiency” compared to small bowls.

So I tested it out.  I didn’t have two metal bowls on hand, but I did have two plastic bowls that were similar in size to the metal bowls.  So I did two tests, one with both big bowls (one metal and one plastic), and one with both small bowls.  Just as in test 1, I threw a handful of garlic cloves into the bowls and counted the numbers that were peeled after 15 seconds of shaking.

Test 1Test 3
big+smallbig bowlssmall bowls
55%62%13%

The large bowl test peeled more (but not all) garlic cloves as compared to the small bowls.   So it seems my thinking was correct, the large size of the bowls in the Saveur test contributed to their peeling efficiency.  But even in this case, some cloves were left unpeeled.

In summary, the silicone tube friction technique definitely won on a clove-by-clove basis (Test 1), but the mixing bowl impact technique was able to peel over 10 cloves of garlic in 15 seconds (Test 2), a feat that even the silicone tube can’t match.  The problem with the impact technique was twofold: 1)  it couldn’t peel all the cloves of garlic at once (Test 2 and 3), meaning some cloves would need to be peeled with a second technique, and 2) it needed two large mixing bowls to be effective (Test 3), which might not always be available in the typical home kitchen (I actually borrowed one of the large bowls from a friend). I found the Saveur impact technique more difficult to perform in my kitchen than advertised on the internet.

On the plus side, I now have enough garlic to feed a roman army (literally), which makes me a very happy camper.

Just a fraction of the resulting garlic.

Credit to Hannah Jaris for the pictures, data recording, and funny faces while I shook myself red and exhausted.

*I’d also note that his garlic-head fist punch was much more difficult to do in practice than it seemed on the video.

Kevin Miklasz

About Kevin Miklasz

As a PhD student in Biology at Stanford University, Kevin’s research is on the biomechanics of micro-algae, as he clearly prefers academic obscurity to hot topic, sexy science. Besides cooking and doing science, Kevin also designs educational science games and engages in similarly nerdy interests. Kevin is an editor for Science Fare, and Director for Digital Curriculum at Iridescent.

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7 Responses to For love of garlic

  1. Robyn Guimont November 16, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    I semi-inherited (not sure if it’s mine to keep) a silicone tube and am really loving it. One thing to note, they don’t work too well if they’re wet. Backup plan in that case – the knife smash, which is good for getting rid of aggressions.

  2. Kevin Miklasz November 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Good point! I noticed this too when I was using it for the experiment, had to dry it off every once in a while or it wouldn’t work. I think even the liquid released from the garlic during the rolling would wet it enough to make it difficult to use, so about every 10 cloves or so I’d have to wash it before continuing.

  3. Danna Staaf November 17, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    “Roman soldier style” actually made me lol. Vivat garlic!

  4. Derek MacDonald April 16, 2012 at 1:25 am #

    Came across this article after seeing what other though of the Saceur technique. A smaller scale version of the impact technique using two steel cups(steel water cups, the kind that stacks) works quite well. Less cleanup than large bowls as well. Took three batches, but def less than a minute for a head of garlic.

    I also found that breaking the bulb apart by hand by quickly removing the outer papery skin much more effective than the “garlic punch” technique. The latter either doesn’t quite work or can result in a mess.

    The trick is impact speed, so with the cups it is easier to get moving fast(think cocktail shaker) than the bowls might be.

    For truly industrial applications I would guess repurposing a paint agitator would work…

    • Kevin Miklasz
      Kevin Miklasz April 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Hey Derek,

      Wow, great comment! I wanted to do a followup post playing with different types of bowls, cause the ones I used were pretty rounded, probably reducing the impact force upon contact. I imagined something with flat edges like the steel cups would probably work better. Any chance you are interesting in writing up what you did for a followup post on ScienceFare?

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