The dark truth behind powdered spices – Garlic

garlic knowledge base

Have you ever wondered why spices in the supermarket don’t smell or taste as good as those found in street markets? Or why you can’t really tell when they’ve lost flavour sitting in your spice rack for years? What about if you were told that for the majority of powdered spices, most of the aromas and flavours have already long faded away Don’t believe it? Read on and you’ll see part of the knowledge we’ve amassed over the decades. Our aim has always been to improve transparency in the industry for consumers, to educate and allow cooks to make more informed decisions on what they are buying. Here we start exploring various spices, and how many companies can (and often do) exploit the “benefits” of pre-powdering spices, and why most consumers are now used to weaker, less fragrant and less tasty ingredients. We will show you how even the worst flaws in raw ingredients can be almost totally masked once they are powdered.

We start with something simple: Garlic. Over the coming months we will gradually go through our entire product range.


Garlic powder is made using a few straightforward processes: Peeling skin off fresh garlic, chopping the garlic cloves into flakes, drying the flakes, and then powdering. Seems like it can’t be exploited? Oh but it can.

The first place where many save on costs, is simply not bothering to skin the garlic at all. Shocking right? But it happens. Much of the skin often gets through, resulting in garlic flakes that look absolutely terrible, potentially resembling garbage. But they are still used, and it’s easier to get away with than you may think. Here’s a picture of a lot sample of this quality:

Skin still intact, this is one of the worst grades of processed garlic. It will be used for powdering, as there is no other use for it.

And here’s the resulting garlic powder from the unpeeled garlic:

Left to right: Garlic with skin still intact, course powder from that garlic, and the resulting fine powder. The powder looks clean!

Not bad at all huh?

The next easy way is retaining the garlic “roots”. The root is considered to be the least flavourful part of the garlic. It contains most of the bitter flavours in the garlic, and also looks the least pretty when dried. It comes into contact with soil and thus has highest risk of contamination. The best quality garlic flakes and powders are made from garlic cloves with not only skin peeled off, but also roots chopped off. Does it really make that much of a difference? There are worse things such as keeping skin as we’ve shown above! But this is certainly not a great practice where taste is concerned. Here’s an example of the garlic once peeled and roots sliced:

Garlic with roots chopped off, and peeled. This reveals the flaws of the fresh garlic which were previously hidden.

As you can see, this can reveal many other flaws and faults with the garlic clove, which is the next issue to tackle.

And here’s the resulting product if the root isn’t sliced off

Garlic with root still intact, but skin peeled. Resulting course powder already looks clean-ish, just a bad colour.

Not great, but the powder will end up looking almost the same as the “unpeeled” one.

Finally, we come to products that we feel are ok, but personally we would still reject them as they could be better. Garlic with the flaws and faults shown above. In terms of the flakes, these look decent, albeit a little odd coloured. Here are four varieties of flakes side by side as a comparison.

Clockwise from top left: Garlic with skin and root. Garlic with root. Garlic without root or skin, but unselected. Regency-grade Hand-selected garlic.

By this point you’re probably thinking that there’s no way all of these flaws can be masked when they turn into a powder. Actually, here is where you’d be wrong.

The nature of powder is such that as the grain size gets finer and finer, they reflect more and more light. Once they reach a powdered state, the amount of light they reflect is very similar, and indistinguishable to someone not aware of what to look for. Here’s the shocker. A side by side of the bad raw material put together with its corresponding powders. See the difference?

Flakes and powder
Powders & Flakes, clockwise from top left: Unselected garlic without root. Regency Grade hand-selected garlic. Garlic with skin and roots.

There isn’t much! In fact, the “flawed garlic” and the “still unpeeled” garlic powders look nearly the same. It’s not until we compare one of them with our “perfect garlic” do we see any difference at all.

Left: Powder from flawed garlic. Right: Powder from our Regency grade garlic. Ours is much whiter.

Virtually all the issues are masked!

Now, we don’t want to say this is what all garlic powder manufacturers or retailers are doing. As our parent company is a supplier to a few, we know there are good ones there who use high quality ingredients too. The issue is that many don’t, and can get away without – as you can see with the evidence.

And even if they do use good variety of garlic with skin well peeled, and roots chopped off, then their aroma/flavor doesn’t last long once in a powder form. For spices, it is their essential oil (which is very volatile) which gives them their aroma/flavour. They have to be carefully preserved. Exposed area of spice is much more in powder than in whole – and thus flavor/aroma escapes that much faster for ground spices.

Spices can also be treated – sterilization, pasteurization, heat treatment etc. All these are claimed to result in “safer” spice as they kill microbial organisms. But where did these organisms come from in the first place? Why not employ good hygiene and control at source? Why not employ preventive techniques instead of relying on treatments? Modern treatment processes used in large factories invariably break whole spices into pieces – they have to sell these in powder form otherwise they will look too ugly.

It’s for this reason that we always suggest to our customers to buy spices whole, where you can see the imperfections and hopefully admire the quality of what you’re using!


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