To wash or not to wash, that is the question! Learn all you need to know about safely storing, cooking, and eating garlic.
Odorous and pungent, garlic is one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen, and the indispensable base for any decent sauce, braise, or stew cooked at home. So much so that, if you omit garlic from a recipe, you will rip out its heart and soul—and, along with it, much of its aroma and flavor.
Some sauté garlic in hot olive oil to take its kick away and mellow out its flavor. Others roast it to make it sweet and caramely. Then, there are those who marinate their meats with it, infusing them with its wondrous flavor. Last but not least come those who eat it raw, be it in Greek tzatziki, Middle Eastern hummus, or Canadian honey garlic sauce.
The versatility and ever-presence of garlic raises a question for the cook who, for one reason or another, must be careful about the safety of his or her home-cooked food: Should garlic be washed?
As with any good cooking question, this one comes with a simple and enigmatic answer of “It depends,” which we are about to help you decode and apply to whatever it is that you’re cooking.
Should You Wash Garlic?
Garlic, whether grown at home or bought from the store, doesn’t need to be washed for storage. (Washing can be counterproductive as excessive moisture promotes sprouting and spoilage.) Store garlic in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place such as a cabinet or the pantry, garage, or basement.
Garlic cloves don’t need to be washed for cooking or eating raw. Crush the clove or cut off the ends and peel off the outer layers. Since fresh garlic can carry dirt, it’s a good idea to wash it before cutting, especially if you plan to eat it raw.
The harmful bacteria that can make you sick tend to live on the surface of your food. Despite lore to the contrary, these breeds of bacteria are not just limited to red meat, poultry, and seafood. Since they live in the dirt, they can also be found on the surface of fresh produce.
Pathogenic bacteria thrive at room temperature, especially when moisture is present. This is the main reason why you don’t have to worry too much about garlic cloves. Just crush them with your hands or remove the paper skin, cut off the ends, and chop or mince them as desired.
Fresh garlic is somewhat different. Store-bought fresh garlic is usually pre-washed, but it can still harbor dirt that can make your braises, soups, and stews sandy. Home-grown fresh garlic must always be washer under running water, as moist soil can harbor harmful bacteria known to cause food-borne illness.
Why This Is Super-Important for Home-Grown Garlic
If you grow garlic yourself, you don’t need to wash it for storage (moisture is counterproductive; it promotes spoilage). However, you should give it a good rinse under running water if you plan to eat it raw.
The thing that makes garlic difficult to harvest is the fact that the bulbs are buried in the dirt. These bulbs are deep down in the earth, growing and flourishing. One of the ways to tell whether or not garlic is ready to go is by looking at the leaves.
If you see that they have a bit of a brown tinge, they’re typically ready to go, though you should only dig one first. If that one looks okay continue, though you should stop if you have one or two that are not ready.
If you happen to harvest too soon, you could be dealing with garlic that’s much smaller than what you bargained for. You want to only harvest them when the cloves are bursting out of their skins and no sooner. If sooner, you may have green garlic, which is much less flavorful.
Our Best Tips for Harvesting Garlic
When you’ve got garlic growing, you’ll get the best harvest when you know what to look for. Before digging up your garlic and harvesting, here are some things that you should do.
1. Check the Signs
Most of the time, garlic will let you know that it’s ready. They do this by cutting off resources to their leaves, which is the part that you see. When they do that, the leaves and stalk start to turn green or brown, both of which are signs that your garlic is done.
When and if you see this, you may want to dig up one or two, checking to see what your bulbs look like.
2. Dig, Don’t Pull
While it may seem fun to just grab the stalk and pull up, garlic doesn’t work like that. Instead, dig it up and don’t disturb any of the roots. This will also help to maintain the integrity of your garden, ensuring that it’s not disturbing the healthy bacteria.
On top of that, if you do have garlic that’s ready to come up, it won’t damage any of the cloves if you dig them out instead of pulling them.
3. Don’t Wash for Storage
There are a lot of vegetables that required washing before you store them. Garlic is not one of them, so when you pull them out of the garden, you should treat them carefully. Don’t wash them and instead, brush the dirt off using a soft-bristled brush.
Then, once you have them cleaned off of dirt, you’ll want to bunch them up and hang them. To do this, gather up about 8 to 10 and tie them with a rubber band. Then, hang them up in a dry, dark spot, allowing them to dry up.
4. Store Properly
It’s not just about prepping garlic but about storing it too. You’ll need to look out for a cool, dark, and dry place, using that as an area to hang store your garlic. One of the best ways after drying or curing is to braid the stems together and hang them up in your preferred spot.
The thing to stay away from is light and changes in temperature, so think about places like the pantry or attic.
5. Know When Garlic Expires
For the most part, garlic is a veggie that stays good for a long time. If you harvest and store correctly, you could have your garlic for 6 to 9 months. However, if you pick too soon or expose your garlic to too much moisture, you can expect some softness or rot.
To keep on top of your garlic, make sure to check every few weeks, feeling for bulbs that are too soft or that have green spots.
6. Save the Good Ones
One of the best things about garlic is that they are super easy to grow. All you’ll have to do is find a good bulb, saving a clove for your seed. Then, simply plant (butt down) in some soil and cover. You’ll notice that they sprout quickly and, if you choose the best of your batch, you’ll be sure to have some beautiful garlic next season.
Garlic is one of the most popular veggies for a reason. Not only is the flavor fantastic but garlic is also filled with health benefits that you can’t find with too many other veggies. When you grow your own, there are a few things to keep in mind, including the fact that you should not wet or wash them.
Be sure to keep your garlic stored in a cool and dry place, giving them time to dry up before you use them for your favorite dishes. You can pick the best ones to use as seeds for your next batch, which you can plant when you’re ready.
Growing garlic is easy, though you’ll have to know some key tips, ensuring that you get the best harvest each and every time.