Why Do You Cook Onions And Garlic First In Recipes?

Do you always cook onions and garlic first before anything else when making a meal? If so, you’re not the only one. In fact, many recipes often call for you to put the onion in first and sweat it off with the garlic going in soon after. But have you ever wondered why you cook them in this way?

Onions and garlic are both members of the Allium family and have a very strong raw taste that becomes sweeter and more subtle when you cook them. Many recipes call for you to cook them first so they subtly infuse the other ingredients.

Onions are added first as they take longer to break down and release their flavor, whereas garlic can easily burn if fried on high heat for more than a few seconds.

But some recipes add garlic first and some put onion – I find out which one is best added first in this post.

Why Is This So Common In Many Recipes?

If you do any amount of cooking, you will know that many recipes from all types of cuisine use both garlic and onions in some way as they form the base flavor for many dishes that the other flavors build on.

For that reason, onions and garlic are often cooked first before adding any other ingredients so that their rather pungent taste when raw has time to sweeten before it gets mixed into the rest of your dish.

By cooking them first, you’re guaranteed that their intense flavors will be infused into the food and you won’t end up with an overpowering taste which can happen if the Alliums are added later in the cooking process.

You really need to sweat off onions in particular before adding anything else otherwise they may not cook through properly and certainly will not attain that lovely caramelized taste and smell that many of us adore.

Just remember that to prevent your garlic from burning you will only need to cook it for a short period of time by adding it to your freshly cooked onion and keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t catch.

Keep moving it around with your spatula and you will end up with a lovely fragrant dish that has been infused with the combined flavors of these two classic ingredients.

Should Onion Or Garlic Go In First?

If you’re following a recipe you will find that nearly every time it will call for the onion to go in first followed by the garlic.

The reason for this is that the slices of onion take longer to break down and release their flavor and moisture, so you need to saute them for a few minutes until they turn translucent before adding the garlic.

There are a couple of advantages to starting with the onion. First of all the moisture released provides a buffer from the hot pan for the garlic and secondly, it allows you to better control the amount of time the garlic spends cooking.

Garlic only takes a few seconds to soften and unlock its unique taste but tends to scorch very quickly, especially if you’re cooking on high heat.

Note that this assumes you’ve minced your garlic or chopped it into tiny pieces. If you have cut it into larger chunks then it will need a longer time to saute and mellow out, in which case you could probably add it at the same time as the onion.

Should You Consider Adding Garlic Last After Other Ingredients?

There are differing schools of thought about whether you should actually consider adding your garlic into the dish right at the end after all the other ingredients have been added and are already cooking.

On the one hand, if you do this then there is very little chance of it burning (which can ruin your meal) and you can add more intense flavor.

On the other, the garlic will not have time to soften fully in both texture and flavor, allowing it to infuse the dish with its gentle taste.

Garlic will retain more of its pungent, raw flavor and can end up overpowering the dish if you use too much without it benefiting from at least some heat.

I think adding garlic late into a dish can be useful as a sort of “seasoning”, but be careful you don’t overwhelm the dish.

Why Are Garlic And Onions Used In Everything?

It sometimes seems that almost every savory dish you come across calls for onions and garlic on the list of ingredients. Some people love that and some may find it not to their taste – why are they used in everything?

Onions and garlic are packed full of flavor which acts as a great base for dishes. They also contain natural flavorings that enhance the taste of other spices and herbs used in a recipe.

Garlic and onions have a lot of redeeming qualities, even if you’re not using them as ingredients in and of themselves. They both release moisture and add body which keeps things from sticking to the pan and burning – this is especially important when you don’t want any burnt flavors messing up your dish.

It’s important to note that it’s not all about taste. A study by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry has found that the use of sulfur compound-rich Allium varieties such as garlic and onions helps improve the way our bodies can absorb the iron and zinc from foods made from grains and pulses.

So it seems likely that over the ages, different cultures around the world realized that there was something special about these two Alliums. They became a standard part of many ancient recipes that have been passed down through the generations and have evolved into the modern recipes we use today.

What Is A Good Onion To Garlic Ratio?

The optimum onion-to-garlic ratio will vary depending on your specific recipe. General guidelines suggest starting with a ratio of 1-2 cloves of garlic to 1 onion.

You can gradually increase the number of garlic cloves until your desired flavor profile is reached.

Additionally, some chefs recommend soaking onions first in order to soften the flavor before adding them to the pan. This process helps to take the intensity out of the onion if you don’t like strong onions.

If you are looking for a more intense onion flavor, then adding additional onion may be a good idea. If you are looking for a subtle flavor profile, then sauteing the onion for longer helps to sweeten it.

Ultimately, some trial and error can help you find your optimum preference for how many onions vs garlic cloves to use and how heavily they should influence the overall taste of your dish.

You can’t go too wrong unless you go heavily out of the normal usage.

Final Thoughts On Why You Cook Onions And Garlic First

Now that you have read through this post, I think you will agree with me that there are several very good reasons that many recipes call for adding onion and garlic and cooking them first.

Most people love the taste of these two ingredients, so why shouldn’t you use lots of them in your dishes? In fact, many chefs believe that by using onions and garlic properly, they can bring out more flavors and aromas than any other ingredients.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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