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That Viral Garlic Hack Doesn't Work

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 6/19/2019 Claire Lower
a close up of a bird © Photo: Michele Blackwell (Unsplash)

People are usually looking for the easiest way to do a thing, whether that thing be holding a burrito upright, eating a pineapple, or peeling garlic. I appreciate this drive, not only because my entire career is fueled by it, but because I am very lazy.

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But sometimes the easiest way to do something isn’t actually easy at all. Sometimes “hacks” take a bit of skill, and skills are things that must be practiced. Just because something looks effortless on video does not make it so. (I think you all know where I’m going here and what video I’m holding in my brain as I type this.)

The internet learned a hard lesson yesterday when we collectively attempted to replicate this viral garlic peeling video.

The video is hypnotizing—seductively so. With a simple twist of a (pocket?) knife, garlic cloves are cleanly pulled from their sticky paper without any smashing, crushing, or shaking in jars. Given my line of employ, I had to try it, but I already knew it probably wouldn’t work. Not only did it not work for me but, according to Twitter, it did not work for anyone, not even America’s Test Kitchen. In fact, Helen Rosner—a person who is very good at food—is currently seeking medical attention after attempting it.

It’s not that I thought the video was doctored, or that Twitter user Valentina Lord was actively trying to deceive, but it just seemed very unlikely that anyone could do this with any type of garlic. When I couldn’t get that viral pineapple hack to work, many people were quick to explain to me that I was trying it on the wrong kind of pineapple, and that I didn’t even have access to the right kind of pineapple. Similarly, some people—including former Lifehacker EIC Alan Henry—have suggested that our failure lies in using “regular” garlic instead of the hardneck stuff:

If that is the case, it would have been helpful information to include in the video, but caveats rarely help something go viral. This, however, speaks to a bigger point: Twitter is a limited platform and generally, if a sudden hack appears, and it seems too elegant, too easy, and too good to have not already entered the hack zeitgeist, it probably isn’t as simple as it looks. Even with the “right” kind of garlic, this is a maneuver that requires at least a little bit of knife work, which almost always takes some practice. I first learned this when I tried to mimic my mother, and core and peel apples with a paring knife at the tender age of 10. I did not cut myself, but I mauled a few apples, and I am still unable to peel and core apples with as much grace as my mom who, as the oldest of seven and mother of three, has been peeling apples for children for many decades.

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Cooking is a physical activity that requires one to perform slightly annoying, sometimes tedious, menial tasks. Garlic is sticky, smelly, and always a slight pain in the butt. Even though microwaving and jar shaking can speed up the process, particularly when dealing with large amounts, the science oven can deactivate some of the allium’s enzymes (though I don’t notice a difference in flavor), and I never seem to have an empty jar. Smashing it with a knife, which I already have in my hand (and will have to wash anyway), and pulling the sticky little skins off, is completely serviceable and—because I have been performing this maneuver for years—quick enough that finding a jar or popping the cloves in the microwave would add time.

Good hacks save time and effort, but learning a skill—whether it be knife work or a proper searing technique—can save even more, especially once you get past the initial investment of practicing. I love a shortcut—heck, I even support you buying pre-peeled garlic if the prep makes you sad—but learning to cut various foods with a knife is something everyone who enjoys cooking should know how to do, not just for the sake of expediency, but for your safety around sharp blades.

The garlic hack video looked too good to be true, and it was. Though I managed to remove one (1) clove cleanly using a sturdy paring knife, I also decimated another five before I gave up. Despite what the internet (and even I, at times) tells you, you probably haven’t been “doing it wrong” this entire time.

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