Garlic powder is a seasoning that can inspire a striking level of animosity. For some, it seems to telegraph a predilection for the short cut, the compromise, the cheat. As a result, cooking with it (or at least admitting to such an activity) can feel slightly illicit, as if it's something that needs to be kept behind closed pantry doors, next to the canned cream of mushroom soup and the packages of Ramen noodles. It might seem like I'm being foodie-dramatic here, but I think I may not be partisan enough—the action in the comments section will soon tell.
Still, as a seasoning, garlic powder has actual culinary applications beyond speedy "sprinkle and broil" garlic bread and "Oops, I forgot it again" soup correction. Sometimes seasoning meats or batters, dips, or a savory batch of Chex Mix just require the powdered stuff. Anti-Powder Advocates protest that such commercial products are too bitter or that the garlic is farmed in countries with less stringent regulation (garlic for powder is often sourced from China). In our house, that little plastic shaker is large enough that it tends to hang around long past its shelf life, eventually getting shoved to the back where it might live in obscurity for—yes, let's just admit this—years. No matter what side you're on, stale and clumpy is not a recipe for deliciousness.
Having just figured out the "dehydrate" setting on my oven, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to try and manufacture my own and get a better sense of just what's so wrong with drying things out a bit.
Once ground and stored in a small jar, just popping the lid off the DIY batch sealed the deal for me. Absent any fillers or anti-caking agents, the blast of powerful garlic scent only hinted at the impressively concentrated flavor of the powder. I didn't get any hints of bitterness. Two garlic bulbs filled one baking sheet once prepared for drying and produced 1/3 cup. I did a sheet of onions at the same time with equal success. I'll be interested to see how well the powders maintain their power, but dehydrating and grinding my own once a year seems extremely doable and well worth the minimal effort.
If you purchase your garlic bulbs rather than grow your own, my calculations put the cost of 2 ounces of powder (from 5 ounces fresh) at $1.25 plus whatever energy costs you invest in dehydrating it. My grocery store prepared option (non-organic, grown in China) is priced at 17¢ more per ounce, and the organic, U.S.A.-grown powdered product is more than double the cost of homemade from purchased bulbs.