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Too Busy To Peel Garlic? Try The 20-Second Microwave Tip

Garlic's papery skin slips off quick after a little turn in the microwave. Yes, the microwave is back.
Garlic's papery skin slips off quick after a little turn in the microwave. Yes, the microwave is back.

If I were rich, I might hire a sous chef. But for now, I'm learning to cheat time. And here's a new way I've stumbled upon to save a minute or two every time I use garlic.

Toss it in the microwave. I put the whole bulb in — 15 to 20 seconds will do the trick. It makes peeling much easier. The cloves practically slide -– or pop — out of their skins, though I won't make any promises about stickiness.

But, since I'm on the science desk, I have to ask, how does it work?

I emailed Gavin Sacks, assistant professor in the department of food science at Cornell University. "My guess is that ... the microwave will heat the water in the garlic, causing cells to rupture," he says. The resulting steam breaks the bonds between the skins and the flesh.

Any down side? Well, microwaving the garlic is akin to blanching it, which Sacks explains will partially inactivate some enzymes. "Since the pungent compound in garlic is formed enzymatically, once raw garlic is crushed or cut, it is likely that the resulting microwaved garlic will be less pungent than non-microwaved garlic."

Hmmm ... I didn't taste any difference when I tried it. Maybe it's just a weensy-bit less pungent? Or maybe I was getting used to the slightly duller flavor in the jar of pre-peeled garlic.

The tip comes from Cook's Illustrated magazine, where they've put together a bunch of readers' tips section in the November/December issue.

"We go through a lot of garlic in my house," Jack Bishop, editorial director of the magazine, tells me.

The microwave tip comes in handy especially when a recipe calls for many, many cloves of garlic that need peeling.

But really, despite some foodies' philosophical opposition to the the microwave, or perhaps the aversion that comes from getting burned by the bowl while the soup stays cold, or fears about food safety, it can be a key kitchen tool in the cook's arsenal.

As home cooks see how the pros are using the microwave on cooking shows, "I think it has come back somewhat into fashion," Bishop says. "You can actually do some smart things with it," like starting baked potatoes in it so they cook faster in the oven, and drying herbs from your garden in it.

"The microwave is really just a piece of technology, not one to be scared of," he says.

Anyway, it's worth a try. And no worries, there's no plastic involved.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.

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