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How to Tell if Garlic Is Bad?

Diane Helentjaris /Unsplash

Discoloration and a sour smell are the most obvious signs garlic has turned bad. Keep garlic fresh by storing bulbs in the cabinet.

Garlic is fantastic to add to a wide range of foods, but because it’s usually sold as a bulb and not as individual cloves, it can be a pain to buy.

More often than not we can end up buying more than we need and cloves get wasted.

In this article, I’ll take a quick look at some of the telltale signs when garlic has gone bad and some tricks that can help it last longer.

Most likely, you’re not storing your garlic properly. (Read on below; we have tips for you for keeping garlic fresh.)

Signs of Bad Garlic

One garlic bulb may last longer than another. Either way, there are some easy ways to spot bad garlic.

If you see any of the obvious signs from below, check each clove and remove the bad ones.

What Does Bad Garlic Look Like?

If you think your garlic may have gone bad, you’ll have to crack open the bulb and check each clove individually. You won’t be able to spot it necessarily from the outside.

A change of color is the most obvious sign that your garlic is no good. Sharon of StreetSmart Kitchen says that garlic turns from white to a yellow or brown color and to look for brown spots.

If the garlic has started to sprout, don’t be put off. This is not a sign of bad garlic, but you should cut sprouts off before cooking.

Just like potatoes, garlic sprouts after it has been left for a long time and it’s still edible.

Sprouting is not so much a sign that garlic is bad but that it will be soon. So, if you spot sprouting, make a mental note to use that garlic soon.

Bear in mind that not all cloves will be bad, so don’t feel the need to throw away the entire bulb. You may have several good cloves still inside that you can use.

I have also noticed that bad garlic cloves can sometimes shrink too on top of becoming discolored.

What Does Bad Garlic Smell Like?

Bad garlic will not smell as strong as fresh garlic and will have a sourer scent to it.

It may be harder to notice if you don’t cook too much with garlic so it may be a good idea to compare it to fresher garlic if you have any around.

Nevertheless, if you’re sure not of the smell, cut the garlic up and check the color.

And if you find yourself still questioning if the garlic is good to use, the safest thing to do is throw it away, unfortunately.

How Long Does Garlic Last?

How long garlic last depends on its form. Do you have a whole bulb, or have you separated the garlic into cloves? Are the cloves peeled or unpeeled?

According to Aneesha of Spice Cravings, garlic bulbs can last 3-6 months, unpeeled garlic for 10 days, and peeled garlic for 5-7 days. However, this does rely on proper storage.

If you’re looking to stretch out your garlic, keep it together as a bulb and only remove cloves when you need to cook.

How Long Does Garlic Last in the Fridge?

An individual peeled clove can last up to one week in the fridge, explains Alex Delany of bon appétit.

Delany also notes that garlic degrades quickly after the skin is removed, and chopped garlic spoils even faster, lasting not even a day if not stored in olive oil.

But the fridge is not the best place to be storing your garlic—more on that at the end.

How Long Does Peeled Garlic Last?

Peeled garlic will not last too long, typically up to seven days. Ideally, you should keep your garlic together as a whole.

Peeled garlic cloves can be frozen in an airtight container. However, do note that while your garlic will last up to 12 months, it will lose its original vigor.

If you’re looking for a quick way to use leftover garlic, in the past, I have used chopped garlic to pickle things like peppers.

Can You Eat Bad Garlic?

While nothing is stopping you from putting bad garlic in your mouth, it is strongly advised that you do not eat bad garlic!

You may have eaten bad garlic before and not even noticed, though in most cases it will taste bitter, and it can also make you seriously sick.

What Happens if You Eat Bad Garlic?

If you eat bad garlic, you run the risk of catching foodborne botulism.

Though not common, it is caused by a bacteria named “Clostridium botulinum” that can live in expired garlic.

According to Mayo Clinic, this bacteria creates a toxin that can attack your nervous system.

Some of the more serious symptoms highlighted by dietitian Jill Corleone of Livestrong.com  include:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Problems swallowing or talking.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Paralysis.

Corleone further adds that you may need rehabilitation to restore your nervous system and muscles. So, seriously do not run the risk of eating bad garlic!

How to Keep Garlic Fresh?

Keep garlic fresh by storing it in a dark, moisture-free space at room temperature. It’s like you’re mimicking its natural environment underground.

We have a box specifically for keeping garlic in the fridge and it can be useful in keeping it out of the light. 

But the problem is that sometimes you forget it’s there and that you have garlic to use.

However, an article by MasterClass recently blew my mind.

It explained that putting whole heads of garlic in the refrigerator is a bad idea because cool temperatures can lead garlic to sprout sooner—I had been doing this wrong for years!

Two other key things to do to keep garlic fresh include:

  • Keeping the bulb together. Don’t separate cloves, or peel them, they will last longer.
  • Garlic needs air circulation. Place garlic in a cupboard in a mesh bag—not in the fridge!

Knowing how to keep garlic fresher for longer should hopefully help you need to buy less garlic.

If you know that no matter what you do, you’ll probably end up throwing out garlic—but you still love it in your food—you can buy a garlic salt mix grinder to add a garlic-y taste. 

This will give you more control over the amount of garlic you use.


As children, we’re told not to play with our food. But I find that food tastes best when you experiment with it. I love trying out new recipes and cooking techniques almost as much as I love eating the end result. | LinkedIn | Muck Rack

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