How Long Garlic Lasts (And How to Store It)

How Long Garlic Lasts (And How to Store It)serezniy /123RF

Everything you need to know about buying, storing, and using up garlic in your home cooking.

What cannot be said in praise of garlic, the “stinking rose,” that has graced many a culinary confection?

Garlic has been used in food and in medicine since the dawn of civilization. The Greeks and the Romans, as well as the Chinese, made extensive use of the plant.

Until recently, garlic was quite rare in Northern Europe and North America. But, since the early 20th century, that changed—and garlic has developed a wide following for its versatility as a food ingredient and for its supposed health benefits. Hardly any food, with the possible exception of dessert, exists that cannot benefit from adding garlic.

There’s nothing like the taste of crisp, fragrant garlic on its own. Cooked garlic, on the other hand, tastes milder richer. Here’s the thing about garlic, though: not all of us realize that getting the most out of it starts not with the cookbook and recipe, but with our trip to the grocery store.

When it comes to buying and storing garlic, a few ground rules apply:

For maximum freshness, buy firm garlic bulbs without any sprouting on the cloves. Store garlic in an open container in a cool and dry place, and it will stay good for 6 months. Peeled garlic lasts for a week in your fridge, whereas minced garlic should be used up within 24 hours.

If you want to buy it garden-fresh and keep it that way for a long time, here’s what else you need to know.

Buying and Storing Garlic

Most supermarkets will have garlic in a bin, usually next to the onions, which you can buy by the pound. And you don’t need that much of it to yield great-tasting results: a little garlic will go a long way in just about any dish.

Garlic—if you are careful about purchasing it—can be very cheap. To select the best garlic, Simon Richard, Produce Buyer for a farmer’s market in San Francisco, tells Epicurious readers to “pick the bulb up and give it a light squeeze,” so as to be sure that the cloves are not overly soft or dry.

You’re looking for garlic with a firm head. Curiously enough, smaller cloves of garlic tend to pack a bigger punch in terms of aroma and flavor than their larger counterparts. When in doubt, reach for the smaller bulbs in the bin.

Sprouting is a tell-tale sign that the garlic’s been in transport, storage, or display for far too long. As a general rule of thumb, you want to select the bulbs that have no sprouts forming, Richard advises.

Unpeeled, whole heads of garlic can last up to six months before they start to go bad. Peeled garlic cloves will last about a week if you keep them in the fridge. Minced garlic has the shortest shelf life: it will last no longer than a day.

Therefore, it is good practice not to peel or break apart your garlic heads until you are ready to use them. If you have already peeled the garlic and minced the cloves, they will keep for a day or so, preferably preserved in olive oil in the fridge.

The best advice that we can give you is to use peeled and minced cloves as soon as possible. 

There are many ways to store garlic. One of the most popular is to hang the bulbs from a hook or nail in a well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight and sources of heat (such as your range or the back of your refrigerator).

Store garlic in an unsealed container in a cool and dry place—such as your pantry, garage, or basement—and not in the refrigerator. There’s too much moisture in the fridge, which can cause garlic to grow mold and rot on the inside.

Some people will store minced garlic in the freezer. You can spoon some minced garlic in an ice cube tray and then add a little water. Freeze the iced garlic cubes and then pop them out and store them in a labeled Zip-loc bag in the freezer. The garlic loses some of its crunchiness but will retain its flavor.

How Can You Tell If Garlic Has Gone Bad?

If your garlic has any dark spots, or if it has sprouted green shoots, it is best to toss it. In case you’re wondering, old garlic can go in the compost with the skin and scalps. It’s important to note that worms stay away from garlic, so it isn’t as welcome in worm composters.

You can also check your garlic by peeling it and looking at the cloves. If the cloves have become yellowish rather than white, the garlic has probably gone a little off.

Eating old garlic won’t kill you or even likely make you sick, but the taste will make it undesirable for use. Go back to the store and pick up some fresh garlic.

Cooking with Garlic

Raw garlic has a harsh, aggressive smell and taste to it. That effect can be sought after when making garlic mayo, known as aioli, which is done by adding a few cloves of freshly minced garlic to mayonnaise.

In most cases, you’ll probably want to cook that harshness off. Cooking garlic removes its kick and mellows its flavor as the heat inactivates the enzymes are responsible for it in the first place.

The key thing to know about garlic is that it burns remarkably fast when cooked, especially in a scorching-hot frying pan. Burnt garlic is nothing to be excited about; it has an acrid, unpleasant taste that can easily take over everything else—and ruin your entire dish.

So sauté garlic in olive oil quickly, for no longer than 15 to 30 seconds (depending on how finely you chopped it), before adding cooking liquid or the rest of your dish’s ingredients to the pan or pot. As soon as you do, it will bring the temperature of the cooking vessel down, preventing the garlic from burning.

The variety of dishes that can be enhanced with garlic is limited only by the imagination. Indeed, you should not have to store garlic for too long or use it only occasionally.

Here are some of the Home Cook World editorial team’s favorite uses for garlic.

Poultry:

Roast turkey, chicken, or duck go well with garlic. The trick is to tuck cloves under the skin on various parts of the bird before putting it in the oven. The result will add the succulent flavor of garlic to the meat after a long, slow roast.

Pesto sauces:

Garlic is a crucial ingredient in pesto sauce. One recipe involves three cloves of minced garlic, two cups of fresh basil leaves, a half cup of grated parmesan cheese, a half cup of extra virgin olive oil, a third cup of pine nuts, salt, and pepper.

Put the basil and nuts in a food processor and pulse several times. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse several more times. Then add the olive oil slowly while running the food processor. 

Pesto sauce enhances a variety of dishes. You can put on toast, fried or roasted potatoes, pasta, and on meat such as steak or pork chops. 

Pasta sauces:

Most store-bought pasta sauces have garlic as an important ingredient. However, if you are in the mood to make your own, you should use at least three minced garlic cloves to give your sauce that extra kick.

Sauté the minced garlic in olive oil for about three or four minutes. Add chopped onions and, if you want it, ground meat. Make sure that the meat is thoroughly browned before you add the tomato sauce and Italian herbs and spices. Simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally.

For Alfredo sauce, add the minced garlic after the cream and melted butter. After stirring for about a minute to let the garlic cook, add some parmesan cheese according to the recipe. The cheese will thicken the sauce nicely. 

Roasting garlic:

Roast garlic is very simple to make. Peel the outer skin and cut off one end to the head of garlic. Put the heads in a muffin tray, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and cover with foil. Roast in the oven at 400°F (200°C) for 30-40 minutes. Take the muffin tray out and allow it to cool.

Pop out the roasted garlic cloves and eat straight. Roasted garlic also goes well as part of a dipping sauce or as an ingredient in pasta sauce.

Roasted garlic can also be used to make garlic butter.

Take a cup of softened butter and combine with one clove of minced roasted garlic and some Italian seasonings. Combine the lot in a bowl. Garlic butter works well on top of a grilled steak, potatoes, or pasta. 

Garlic ice cream:

The Spruce Eats describes a recipe for garlic ice cream that is served at the Gilroy, California annual Garlic Festival. It is made by cooking garlic into a normal recipe for vanilla ice cream. It is described as tasting sweet, yet still having a garlic flavor. Best of all, as a person is eating a milk product along with garlic, the dairy counteracts garlic breath.

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Discussion

  1. Frank

    I’ve stored minced garlic for a week – in a little water (rather than olive oil), in a covered ramekin, in the fridge. I mince garlic with 1-2 palmfuls of water and a wet knife. The water helps keep the garlic from being so sticky and also from flying around during more aggressive mincing. The garlic I don’t use for the recipe goes into the fridge. Stays good for about a week. Sometimes I’ll mince extra garlic specifically for this purpose. Great time saver!

    1. Jim the Home Cook

      Frank, that’s some great advice! Thanks for sharing and love the water hack when mincing.

      I also like to mince garlic ahead of time. I keep a handful of it frozen in a small food storage container. That way, I can easily take it out for a few minutes, break it up into smaller chunks, and throw it into a soup or stew (when I don’t plan to sauté it).

      Jim

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