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It seems like everyone loves garlic. 'Eater' looks at why do recipes use so little

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When a recipe calls for one clove of garlic, how much should you actually use? There seems to be a growing consensus that when cookbooks tell you something will taste best with a single garlic clove, they are lying to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yesterday, I made this soup with 50 cloves of garlic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Let's just understand this king of the allium family.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: If it says six cloves of garlic on a recipe, I put 12.

SHAPIRO: Why this mass deception? Well, Bettina Makalintal wrote a piece for Eater, trying to answer that question. Thank you for helping us solve this mystery.

BETTINA MAKALINTAL: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: OK. So how do you approach a recipe that calls for just one or two cloves of garlic?

MAKALINTAL: So I would say that when I see a recipe, if it says garlic, I generally don't really read the number too hard. I sort...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MAKALINTAL: ...Of do whatever I feel like reaching for at any given time or whatever I really feel like peeling. So yeah, it's not really something that I follow. So there is this big disconnect between, like, what recipes call for and what people who like garlic seem to actually want to use.

SHAPIRO: Why? Like, why would they lie to us?

MAKALINTAL: (Laughter) OK. So I talked to a couple of recipe developers for this story, and it seems like the main reason is that, like, they're partially trying to find a safe number, right? Like, because any time you're giving a person a recipe, you have the people who are going to follow it strictly and the people who will do sort of whatever they want. Having one or two cloves or sort of these smaller quantities is a way to tell people, you know, this recipe is good with garlic, and if you're intimidated by a ton of garlic, it's not an, air quote, "scary amount," but at the same time, there's enough garlic in it that if you are a huge garlic lover and you're - like me - you're going to just multiply it, you know? You know that garlic fits into the recipe and that whatever the amount that I'm going to use should taste good.

SHAPIRO: So basically the recipe is just saying, garlic - green light or red light. The amount is not important in the way that flour would be important to recipes that have flour.

MAKALINTAL: I think garlic sort of functions almost in this, like, garlic-to-taste way that we are much more familiar to seeing with salt. But I think because garlic is something you could really easily quantify, you know, I think it's helpful to put, you know, these quantities down for some people.

SHAPIRO: Garlic lovers are a very vocal group. Is this a controversial ingredient? I mean, is this something that people are truly divided over?

MAKALINTAL: At this current point in time, I think garlic lovers and the heavy garlic users definitely seem like the majority. From sort of my reading, it doesn't seem like that's always been the case. You know, for example, when, like, Italian food was new in the United States, the fact that it was really heavily garlicky and pungent, some people saw it in a sort of off-putting way. And we've definitely reversed course on that, where people, you know, love garlic so much, and they like the pungency of it.

SHAPIRO: In your article, you mention Marcella Hazan, the famous cookbook writer who many say changed the way Americans cook Italian food. Her most legendary tomato sauce has three ingredients - tomatoes, butter, onion - no garlic. Does that undermine your thesis that garlic makes everything taste better?

MAKALINTAL: I think that recipe really highlights the point that I think sometimes people go so enthusiastic about their love for garlic that they ignore that there are dishes that are good without it. Like, I love garlic so much, I have a garlic tattoo, but I love that recipe, and it has no garlic in it. And I think that all of those other flavors really, like, have their opportunity to shine without all of that extra garlic flavor softening it.

SHAPIRO: I did not know you had a garlic tattoo. That really shapes my understanding of your position on all of this.

MAKALINTAL: Yeah. I feel like I'm allowed to say skepticism about garlic since I am this committed (laughter).

SHAPIRO: There is a consideration we have not talked about, which is - you and I are, right now, connecting remotely. We're in different studios. If we were here face-to-face in person, would there be a risk of garlic breath?

MAKALINTAL: I have not had any garlic yet today.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MAKALINTAL: But I am making pasta for lunch, and so soon there will be a risk of garlic breath (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Bettina Makalintal's piece for Eater is, "Why Do So Many Recipes Call For So Little Garlic?" Thanks a lot.

MAKALINTAL: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Kai McNamee
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.