When garlic, or its more apt name, the stinking rose, is stored properly, it can keep as long as six months. For me, this is great, as it means I always have some to hand. Although I do grow a little garlic in the garden, I do occasionally need to buy a bunch for batch cooking. By storing it correctly it means I get to save a few dollars by not having to keep buying fresh as it has begun to shrivel or sprout.
In this tutorial I give step by step instructions on how to store your garlic properly, whether it has been home grown, or store-bought. As we shall see during the rest of this article, storing garlic properly is also a way to store it safely.
All About Garlic
Like onions, shallots and leeks, garlic is a member of the allium – which is Latin for garlic - family of vegetables. Garlic tends to be classed as one of four types:
This has a woody and hard central stalk and has more bite to its taste. Hardneck can have a light pink or purplish tint to its skin or cloves.
Has a softer central stalk which makes it easy to braid when hanging to cure. Softneck is often the variety sold in grocery stores.
With a purplish/rose hue all over the bulb, this is usually only available from specialist stores or markets unless you grow your own.
This is garlic which is has been though a heat aging process to change its color to black. It has a distinctive caramelized flavor and has lost its garlic pungency.A bulb or head of garlic will contain between four and 30 or more cloves depending on its variety. Most store-bought garlic bulbs will contain between 10 and 15 cloves.
For everyday cooking, most recipes only require between one and three cloves, unless the dish is roasted. When garlic is roasted, its flavor mellows, sweetens and becomes a lot less intense – meaning you can cook and consume much more of it. Roasting does destroy allicin though, which is one of the beneficial compounds in garlic.
The word garlic comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘spear-leek’ and garlic is thought to have developed from a wild strain of Asian garlic which evolved over time into the bulb shape that it is today. One of the world’s older crops, there is still uncertainty as to exactly where garlic came from, although evidence suggests it is native to south Asia, central Asia or southwestern Siberia.
As people travelled and settled in other countries, garlic began to spread across the world, with Spanish, Portuguese and French settlers eventually introducing garlic to the US.
There is mention of garlic in many ancient writings, as well as in the Bible, Quran and Talmud and garlic was worshipped as a god by ancient Egyptians. Clay garlic bulbs would be placed in the tombs of departed family members and some of these clay garlic bulbs were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Garlic was used as a local currency and would be given to slaves and workers as pay and for food when they were working on the pyramids. Apparently, one of the two recorded work stoppages by slaves during this era was caused when garlic crops failed due to the Nile flooding.
Not all Egyptians ate garlic though; the upper classes thought it would upset their constitution and even the priests who worshipped garlic would avoid cooking or eating it. Garlic was avoided by upper classes in other cultures and countries, and it was only in the 1940s that garlic moved on from being considered an ingredient of ethnic cooking to part of everyday cuisine.
The US is actually the biggest garlic importer in the world – with our adults consuming around 2 lb (or 300 cloves) of garlic every year. To date, China and India were the biggest producers of garlic commercially, with China supplying around 50% to 75% of garlic eaten in the US. Egypt, Russia and South Korea also produce garlic commercially.
Between 80% to 90% of home-grown garlic is from California; either West of the Diablo mountain range or in the San Joaquin Valley. Nevada, Arizona and Oregon also grow garlic commercially.
Garlic, along with other trade imports remains a focus for political leaders in the US, which means that a shift in commercial garlic supply may well occur in the not too distant future.
Nutrition of Garlic
Garlic is nutritious, a 1 oz serving contains 42 calories, 0.3 oz of carbs and 0.06 oz of protein. It also contains 23% of our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of manganese, 17% of vitamin B6 and 15% of vitamin C. Other nutrients in garlic include selenium, fiber, calcium, potassium and iron.
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic has been used medicinally for millennia. In ancient Greece and Rome, garlic was a ready cure for a range of ailments such as dog bites and asthma, and it was thought to prevent the spread of smallpox and even protect against leprosy.
It was proved in 1858 by Louis Pasteur that garlic was antimicrobial and could kill bacteria. From this research, garlic was widely used as an antiseptic and cure for dysentery during the First and Second World Wars.
Many of the health benefits from garlic come from its sulfur compounds that are formed when it is chopped, crushed or chewed. A considerable amount of research supports eating garlic raw, as some of these key compounds, such as allicin, are destroyed when garlic is cooked.
Studies have shown that garlic can help reduce high blood pressure or hypertension and one particular study showed that a supplement of 600–1,500 mg of aged garlic extract worked as well as medication to reduce blood pressure over 24 weeks. These studies do use quite high doses though – around 4 cloves a day! Likewise, garlic can also lower levels of LDL and total cholesterol, which like hypertension, contributes to heart disease and a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The common cold is another disorder that garlic can help combat. One study showed that those who took a garlic supplement every day during the three month study has 63% fewer colds than the placebo group, and the length of time that they suffered cold symptoms was also reduced.
Garlic contains antioxidants which can help combat damage from molecules called free radicals in the body. These free radicals contribute to aging and some conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
We are all exposed to environmental contamination from heavy metals such as lead. Garlic may help protect against this heavy metal contamination, as it has been shown to reduce blood lead levels by 19% in people who work in a car battery plant.
To increase your raw garlic consumption, you can try adding it to homemade pesto or whip up a batch of aioli (garlic mayonnaise). If you really do not want to eat it raw (or subject those around you to garlic breath), then instead of putting garlic into the pan at the start of the cooking try adding it just before the food has finished cooking; this will allow it to retain some of its raw nutrition.
Safe Storage of Garlic
Garlic may contain spores of Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria and its spores are common in soil and are harmless when in soil and in the presence of oxygen. However, when these spores are placed into an environment at 50°F or above without oxygen - such as during canning - there is a risk of the spores germinating and producing a toxin which causes a dangerous food poisoning known as botulism.
This is why storing garlic in oil, or canning should be avoided, instead, as detailed in the tutorial below, storing garlic at room temperature or in the freezer are always the safest options.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
- Whole garlic heads/bulbs - keeping a bulb whole rather than separating it into cloves keeps garlic for longer. Once the bulb is broken into cloves, its lifespan reduces to no more than 10 days.
- Storage container – a mesh bag or basket or even a paper bag is ideal.
- Suitable storage environment – Somewhere such as a pantry or cupboard that is around 60 to 65°F, dark and has moderate humidity.
Refrigerator storage should also be avoided as C. botulinum bacteria can grow at the lower temperatures. If the garlic is in oil containing citric acid, it is usually fine to store in the refrigerator.If you roast your fresh garlic, this can stay refrigerated for around two weeks or will freeze for up to three months. You can then use this in cooking, on bread or for making hummus.
Garlic can also be frozen if you chop it then wrap it tightly, or even free whole cloves that are left unpeeled. You will need to defrost these before peeling and using. I tend to avoid freezing garlic, as however well it is wrapped, its odor does seem to permeate everything in the freezer.
You can also dry good quality peeled cloves in the oven for around two hours at 140°F or pickle them. Home storing in oil or canning can increase the risk of botulism and so should be avoided.
Step by Step Instructions
If like me, you grow your own garlic then you will need to check the garlic for any signs of pest or disease before hanging it to cure in in a well ventilated space at around 80°F for a couple of weeks. You can then follow the steps below to store it in the same way as bought garlic.
Step 1: Check the garlic
Whether home grown or bought from the grocery store, there are always some things to check before storing garlic. If the bulb is sprouting, soft or damaged, then it will not store well and is best used soon after purchase. Sprouting garlic is still edible, but its taste can be more bitter.
The best garlic for storing should be fresh and feel firm with its skin white, papery and dry, and it should not have been stored in the refrigerator at the store.
Step 2: Place the whole bulb or head into a storage containerAn open paper bag or mesh basket or bag is the best way to store garlic as these will allow air to circulate, unless you are lucky enough to have a garlic keeper – a crock with holes and a lid. Lack of circulation can mean that the garlic starts to rot.
Pro tip: A small upturned unglazed garden pot with a hole in the bottom also makes an ideal garlic keeper.
Step 3: Place into the storage location
The pantry or cupboard is usually the most suitable place to store garlic. If you store it in the light or a moist environment, it will encourage mold to grow.
The temperature should be around 60 to 65°F in your storage space. If you store it somewhere where temperature fluctuates, then after a drop and rise, the garlic will often start to sprout. This is why it is best avoiding buying garlic that has been in the refrigerator at the store.
Storage should also be somewhere that has moderate humidity. If the air is too dry, the garlic will shrivel quickly.
Pro tip: It is harder to store garlic properly during winter as the air indoors becomes very dry and causes garlic to shrivel. Rather than throwing it out, use the shriveled cloves in vegetable stock – skins and all.
You can just leave your garlic in this spot now. With luck, it can last for up to six months – perfect for allowing you to buy your garlic in bulk.
In this tutorial we have looked at the easiest way to store garlic to ensure long life and also minimize the risk of botulism food poisoning. I hope you have enjoyed reading this tutorial and have also found it interesting. If your friends would also find it interesting, please take the time to share it with them.I would love to have your comments on this article as well as any other pro tips or money saving ideas that you have for storing garlic or using garlic that is past its best.