In Cooking, what is a Garnish?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
Cherries may be used as a garnish.
Cherries may be used as a garnish.

To cook like a professional chef, people need to understand the importance of food presentation. Nothing completes a delicious meal like appropriate garnish choices. Garnishes are small additions of herbs, specially sliced vegetables, or other items that can be used to enhance the color of a dish, provide contrast, or add a festive finishing touch. When used properly, these additions can help to transform an ordinary meal into a special occasion.

Strawberries make a great garnish.
Strawberries make a great garnish.

Garnishes can be used throughout a meal to add impact to food choices. For example, curled cucumber spirals are a popular addition for salads. Potatoes are often sprinkled with parsley or chives for added contrast. For desert, ice cream sundaes are frequently served with a maraschino cherry on top.

There are many different types of cocktail garnishes as well. Lemon slices, cherries, carrot sticks, cocktail olives, shrimp, strawberries, and watermelon wedges are used on a variety of mixed drinks. Whiskey or brandy based alcoholic drinks typically have minimal additions.

A garnish enhances the decorative aspect of a dish, like cucumber spirals in a salad.
A garnish enhances the decorative aspect of a dish, like cucumber spirals in a salad.

Traditionally, these additions are associated with a specific food item, and many cookbooks give suggestions within the recipe. Many cooks like to experiment with their own ideas to express their creativity in the kitchen. Someone who stumbles on a great option may even manage to start her own culinary trend.

To garnish food at home, a cook will need to keep the right tools on hand. A well stocked spice rack, a sharp knife, a grater, skewers, and an assortment of cookie cutters will make these additions easier to create. Other useful tools include pastry brushes, an apple corer, a melon baller, and a butter curler.

A grilled steak garnished with rosemary.
A grilled steak garnished with rosemary.

To ensure a crisp look, garnishes should be added to food just before serving. Cooks who need to prepare the meal in advance can store the garnish in an airtight container covered with plastic wrap. Apples, bananas, potatoes, and other items that may discolor can also be brushed with lemon juice to help preserve their appearance.

Although garnishes are sometimes confused with condiments, these two terms are not interchangeable. A garnish is simply decorative, but a condiment is used to add flavor to a particular food item. Examples of popular condiments include ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, soy sauce, mayonnaise, and Tabasco sauce.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

Discussion Comments

indemnifyme
@sunnySkys - A well done garnish does make a nice meal feel even more special. However, as other people have pointed out, there's no reason why you can't do garnishes at home if you want to.
sunnySkys

I love garnishes. I think they do add a special extra something to a meal. When I go to a restaurant that pays a lot of attention to presentation, it really makes me feel like I'm getting my moneys worth.

I love when you're at the table, and they bring the food and set it in front of everyone, and it just looks delicious. There's a big difference between just throwing food on a plate at home, and good presentation (complete with garnish) at a nice restaurant.

JessicaLynn

@strawCake - I'm with you on that one. I've also seen a few pieces of lettuce used as a garnish, and I really don't get it. I also hate the idea of a pickle as a garnish, because I really dislike pickles. Some places just throw a pickle on top of the rest of the meal, and the pickle juice leaks into it. Gross.

strawCake

I know presentation is important, but a lot of times, I think garnishes are totally pointless. They're especially pointless when they're not done well. I'd rather have no garnish than one sad looking, wilted sprig of parsley thrown onto my plate as an afterthought.

I'm definitely not going eat a wilted vegetable, and if it doesn't even look good, what's the point?

summing
I really like it at steakhouses when they will include a bulb of roasted garlic as a garnish. It is really striking looking, and it actually enhances the meal. The aroma affects the flavor of everything around it and you can usually squeeze out a delicious roasted garlic paste that adds an amazing garlicky kick to any steak or potato.
Oceana

@Perdido – I've heard that you can carve shapes out of cantaloupe rather easily, since it's pretty substantial. I have a friend who makes flower shaped garnishes from cantaloupe, and they are rather impressive.

However, I'm not quite so advanced. I garnish with banana slices, but anyone could do that.

I love putting chocolate hazelnut spread on top of a piece of toast and topping it off with small slices of banana. It's a healthy and delicious garnish, as long as I don't eat too much of it. It may not be particularly decorative, but I love it!

Perdido

Can anyone give me some ideas for a creative fruit garnish? So far, I have mastered the curled orange peel, and while that is lovely and impressive, I don't want to be a one-trick pony! I'm looking to expand my knowledge here.

DylanB

I love the chocolate garnish that my favorite restaurant places on top of its chocolate mousse pie. Someone in the kitchen cuts chocolate curls from semi-sweet chocolate and tops the pie with it so artfully!

It really isn't just for looks. It enhances the intensity of the chocolate flavor. I think that using semi-sweet chocolate was a good decision, because milk chocolate would have just been too sweet. It provides the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the center.

orangey03

I think it's funny how a word can have a pleasant meaning in one context and a negative one in another. Cooking garnishments are pleasing to look upon and sometimes to taste, while wage garnishments are painful experiences that we all wish to avoid.

concordski

One of my favorite garnishes is to cut parallel cuts in a strawberry, but only cutting through 80 or 90% of the fruit. Then you just fan the slices out (the base of the strawberry holds all the slices together in one piece). Once you get a hang of it, these are super easy to make, and they really make your dishes look much more appetizing.

These strawberry garnishes are particularly suitable for salads or desserts.

sikkim

I think garnishes are underused. Some clever uses of citrus peel, or a sprig of an herb can really make your guests feel appreciated. Many garnishes are so easy to make, there is really no reason not to add a little something extra to your meals.

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    • Cherries may be used as a garnish.
      By: baibaz
      Cherries may be used as a garnish.
    • Strawberries make a great garnish.
      By: Anna Kucherova
      Strawberries make a great garnish.
    • A garnish enhances the decorative aspect of a dish, like cucumber spirals in a salad.
      By: courlandcurly12
      A garnish enhances the decorative aspect of a dish, like cucumber spirals in a salad.
    • A grilled steak garnished with rosemary.
      By: Joe Gough
      A grilled steak garnished with rosemary.
    • A lime slice can be used as a garnish on a cocktail.
      By: Alex Bramwell
      A lime slice can be used as a garnish on a cocktail.
    • Bananas, which are sometimes used as a garnish.
      By: Liaurinko
      Bananas, which are sometimes used as a garnish.
    • Lemons are sometimes used as a garnish.
      By: Britta Laser
      Lemons are sometimes used as a garnish.
    • A martini with three olives as a garnish.
      By: dondesigns
      A martini with three olives as a garnish.
    • A hot dog garnished with yellow mustard.
      By: Brenda Carson
      A hot dog garnished with yellow mustard.
    • Fresh parsley is commonly used to garnish food.
      By: alex555
      Fresh parsley is commonly used to garnish food.
    • Lemon is often used as a cocktail garnish.
      By: JJAVA
      Lemon is often used as a cocktail garnish.
    • Pickles may be used as a garnish.
      By: Louella Folsom
      Pickles may be used as a garnish.
    • Dessert items or breakfast items may be served with a garnish of apple slices.
      By: mitrs3
      Dessert items or breakfast items may be served with a garnish of apple slices.