Fresh garlic is a summer treat, but it can also be enjoyed year-round,
by WEforum editors
It is almost mind-boggling today that regardless of the growing season, the only fresh garlic available to grocery shoppers is a lackluster semi-rotted assortment of moldy and bitter-smelling garlic heads better suited for the trash or compost bin. The garlic harvest spans from late summer through July and early August, depending on the garlic variety in most parts of the country. In New Jersey, the garlic harvest begins in the early summer. And yet, even during peak season, the only garlic readily available to most shoppers is almost always months old and shipped (and frequently imported) from thousands of miles away.
Part of the fun of cooking with fresh garlic is experimenting with its various flavor profiles. The method for preparing garlic in the kitchen helps determine the sharpness of the garlic flavor, but specific garlic types will also vary in pungency. While some varieties are more piquant, others are milder and more nuanced. There are hundreds of varieties of garlic, which is an edible bulb in the allium family related to onions and leeks. According to Harold McGee in his book Food Science, each clove in the garlic head is a swollen leaf. If you are looking for fresh garlic and can’t find it locally, many small farms across the U.S. will ship directly.
There are typically two subspecies of cultivated garlic:
Hardneck (or bolting), which also produces garlic scapes, usually have smaller bulbs with fewer and more uniform cloves.
Softneck (or non-bolting), which the consumer typically finds at the grocery store, is more shelf-stable and usually produces larger bulbs with more cloves that are less uniform in size and easier to peel. California Early and California Late are the two most common types of softneck garlic grown commercially in California. California Late garlic is harvested a bit later and has a sharper, more pronounced garlic flavor.
Elephant garlic is a member of the wild leek family and not a true garlic. Elephant garlic also produces different flavor profiles.
Below are some resources for growing, purchasing, prepping, and cooking with garlic.
Gardeners who are interested in Growing Garlic should take care to select seeds that are free from nematode, white rot, and various other serious diseases or insects. It is also essential to research the variety of garlic and where it was grown to determine whether it will be compatible with your home garden.
The best way to buy garlic is from a local farm or an organic or regenerative farm, many of which ship across the United States. It’s easy to buy in bulk and store for future use.
When selecting fresh garlic, look for round cloves that aren’t dry and brittle. A fresh head of garlic shouldn’t feel collapsed or hollow inside. It should also be odorless, so select garlic that does not have an aroma, a sign of damaged cloves. Fresh garlic will not have green sprouts forming.
BUYING FROM FARMS:
Some farms only sell at their farm, a local farmer’s market or to members of a CSA. Below is a list of farms, some of which are USDA certified, that will ship.
How to properly store garlic is a topic of much discussion among food safety experts. Garlic is a low-acid product and easily a magnet for the bacteria that causes botulism. Botulism can be fatal, and it both thrives without oxygen, and botulism spores remain dormant in the freezer until removed. Because botulism can be deadly, it is imperative to adhere to strict guidelines when handling and storing garlic.
Whole Heads of Garlic and Unpeeled Garlic Cloves
Whole heads of garlic will keep for up to 6 months if properly stored. Store them in a cool, dark, dry place with relatively low humidity to prevent mold from growing.
Store in an open container that is well ventilated, like a basket, but not in plastic (avoid garlic products wrapped in cellophane).
Whole garlic cloves may be stored for up to a week.
Whole peeled garlic should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for only a day or two.
Never store chopped garlic at room temperature (or warmer), not even if stored in oil. Unpasteurized garlic and garlic oil are harbors of botulism, which can be life-threatening.
Whole unpeeled garlic heads or cloves may be frozen (peeled or unpeeled) for up to 3 months.
Peeled whole or chopped cloves may also be frozen for up to 3 months, as long as the freezer temperature remains consistently below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. When removed from the freezer, either use immediately or thaw in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
There are several methods for freezing chopped garlic.
Freeze in one layer on a parchment-layered baking sheet until solid and then break into pieces when needed;
Submerge chopped garlic in a neutral oil (like Canola or grapeseed) and freeze in ice cube trays;
Purée chopped garlic together with a neutral oil and freeze in covered ice cube trays (to minimize garlic odors). As a rule of thumb, add twice the volume of oil when pureeing, so the product is easier to remove from the tray.
Garlic (whole or chopped) stored in oil should always be refrigerated, which means in a fridge whose temperature remains below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roasted garlic may be stored in the fridge for 5-7 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Garlic confit will also keep in the refrigerator for 7-10 days or frozen in an ice cube tray for up to 3 months.
Although the research on garlic and garlic supplements is limited and frequently unsubstantiated, some Epidemiological Research suggests that consuming vegetables in the garlic family, like onions, shallots, chives, and leeks, might lower the risks of gastrointestinal cancer. Garlic is a good source of vitamins B-1 (thiamin) and B6, manganese, copper, selenium, and vitamin C.*
As tempting as it might be to reach instead for the bottled chopped garlic, this product uses lesser quality garlic and has been pasteurized and often chemically treated, leaving an astringent aftertaste. Over time bottled garlic is also more prone to botulism.
*Garlic could interact with some drugs, so patients should consult with a medical physician before consuming garlic or garlic supplements.