What you see: Your garlic has sprouted!
What it is: The garlic trying to make more garlic.
Eat or toss: Eat! Sprouted cloves may taste harsher, but if you’re making a cooked dish with a variety of ingredients, you probably won’t notice.
Is it OK to eat sprouted garlic?
Back in Ancient Garlic Times, the ancestor of one of our favorite kitchen staples adapted to hot, dry summers and long cold winters with a solution many of us might like to embrace ourselves: it went dormant for long stretches of time.
Fast forward to the present. When you purchase (sleepy) heads of garlic, they are most likely on pause, just as they might have been back in the day when they waited until the weather was just right to grow and flourish. These days there are many varieties of garlic on different schedules, but a habit of long dormant periods persists.
Environmental cues trigger garlic to sprout
Environmental cues and time will stir garlic from its slumber. You’ll know it’s “awake” and working on the next generation if you see a green sprout in the center of the clove. The sprout is perfectly edible and can be cooked with the rest of your dish. But, sprouting garlic will probably have a sharper, harsher flavor than garlic still in its deep sleep. You might not enjoy it raw, but it will still work in a cooked dish alongside other ingredients.
Those more intense flavors come about because the garlic is burning through its tasty sugar stores to push energy and resources into the sprout. Cook’s Illustrated used to urge people to remove the sprout, but updated their recommendation recently when they discovered that it was the entire clove, not just the sprout, that sported more intense flavors once sprouting started. Now, they simply recommend using sprouted cloves (sprout and all!) in recipes where garlic plays a supporting, not starring role.
One thing you’ll want to consider is how advanced the sprout is. The one at the top of this post is quite large and that clove could be more intense. An older clove may also be more shriveled. Cloves of advanced age are also more susceptible to pathogens and other microbial opportunists, so do a quick inspection for rot or fuzzy mold growth.
But garlic developing green shoots might also have a health benefit. A 2014 article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that garlic with five-day-old sprouts had higher antioxidant activity than unsprouted garlic or even just-sprouting garlic.
How to prevent garlic from sprouting
Fresh garlic cloves are all programmed to sprout eventually, but you can stall the little green shoots by storing your garlic in a dry, dark, well-ventilated space. Don’t put garlic in the fridge. It’s actually most likely to sprout between 40 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Fridges often hover around 40 degrees. In a home kitchen, room temperature is best for garlic.
Experts at the University of California report that you can get a solid one to two months of shelf life from garlic bulbs stored between 68 and 86 degrees, which covers a wide range of “room temperature.” In addition to sprouting, older garlic might shrivel, soften, and develop a spongy texture, all consequences of moisture loss.
Guidance on garlic storage can be confusing. In researching this post I found what appeared to be some reputable sites that gave what I believe is the wrong advice (some urge you to put your garlic in the fridge). I think some writers might be conflating best practices for home kitchens with garlic industry practices (though if any garlic scientists are reading this and can clear up the confusion, please email [email protected]). On a commercial scale, garlic stored at precisely 32 degrees in specific storage containers with managed humidity, can last for many months. But the average home fridge can’t be set to the exact specifications garlic needs to stay good for that long. So, we’re best off keeping our garlic out of the fridge.
Did you just remove the smooth, papery skin and find green garlic underneath? Find out why in this post. And check out this post for more on why you need to be careful with garlic-in-oil infusions.
- Garlic: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Linda J. Harris (Specialist in Cooperative Extension, microbial food safety, Department of Food, Science and Technology. University of California, Davis.) University of California. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. October 2016.
- Garlic. Vegetable Produce Facts. Marita Cantwell (Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis).
- The Commercial Storage of Fruits, Vegetables, and Florist and Nursery Stocks. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Revised February 2016.
- Garlic Production in the Home Garden. Laurie Hodges, Extension Specialist. University of Nebraska – Lincoln. November 2013.
- Garlic, Allium sativum. Wisconsin Horticulture. Division of Extension. Susan Mahr. University of Wisconsin – Madison.
- Calibration, Validation and Improvement of a Process-based Crop Simulation Model for Hardneck Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Jennifer Hsiao. Master’s Thesis. University of Washington 2015
- Crop Profile for Garlic in Washington. Richard M. Hannan USDA/Western Regional Plant Introduction Station Washington State University. Prepared November 2001.
- Can you cook with sprouted garlic? Cook’s Illustrated.
- Rohkin Shalom, S., Gillett, D., Zemach, H. et al. Storage temperature controls the timing of garlic bulb formation via shoot apical meristem termination. Planta 242, 951–962 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-015-2334-0
And the award for Best Garlic In A Supporting Role goes to . . . .
Garrlick Merand: 86th Attorney General and Allium Sativum Champion
This post was originally published Sept. 16, 2022, and was updated Jan. 18, 2023