We’re all familiar with garlic, which is one of the most interesting of the ‘lily’ (or ‘allium’) family and something that’s used to add depth of flavour to thousands of recipes from all four corners of the globe.
Of course, garlic also has a role in popular culture, having been referenced in Bram Stoker’s iconic “Dracula” novel as an effective repellent of vampires. Interestingly, this was arguably based on garlic’s unique bioactive compounds, which could theoretically also make it an effective repellent for insects and other creatures in some circumstances.
However, few of us really understand garlic and its health benefits in depth, let alone how to store it effectively and optimise its lifespan.
We’ll touch on these points in the article below, so that you can get the most of your garlic and the numerous recipes that it brings to life!
Getting Started – What is Garlic?
As we’ve already touched on, garlic is a member of the lily or allium family, along with onions, leeks and the lesser-used shallots.
Like its cousins, it grows underground in the form of a bulb, typically during late autumn and early winter over a period of one or two months. The bulbs may also be referred to as ‘heads’ within the wider culinary realm, each of which can contain anywhere between 10 and 20 cloves.
In terms of composition, garlic has an inedible skin that safeguards its small, off-white cloves. This can be peeled to access the individual cloves, which may then be crushed or diced and infused into a whole array of dishes and cuisines.
Garlic’s Fascinating Facts and Health Benefits – Some Points to Keep in Mind
As the single most fascinating member of the allium family, it should come as no surprise that garlic is at the centre of some truly unbelievable facts.
For example, did you know that garlic’s green shoots, when left in the ground long enough, produce ‘garlic scapes’? These entities are best described as flower stalks, which are completely edible and frequently sold at farmer’s markets throughout the UK.
They may also appear as specialty items during the spring season, so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for them as they offer a potentially unique taste sensation.
Interestingly, there are also a number of known health benefits to consuming garlic. Here’s just a few to keep in mind!
#1. Reduces Oxidative Stress
Garlic is packed full of antioxidants, and in this respect is similar to food items such as walnuts, spinach, tomatoes, blueberries, and asparagus.
Antioxidants are key in reducing oxidative stress, which can naturally occur in the body during the process of oxidation. This happens when our bodies metabolise the oxygen that we breathe, as our cells produce energy from this and free radicals are released into the body.
Oxidation can also occur when the body looks to detoxify pollutants and ingested toxins, or as the immune system fights of bacteria and creates inflammation.
Free radicals describe molecules that interact with the molecules that already exist in our cells, and may arguably be necessary to some degree. However, they can potentially create damage and oxidative stress too, which is characterised by symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and brain fog.
Make no mistake; consuming garlic is a great way of combating oxidative stress, especially if it’s used as part of a healthy and balanced diet over time.
#2. Garlic is Low Calories But Highly Nutritious
Weight gain is a problem for many people, with a staggering 64.2% of UK adults now classed as being either obesse or overweight.
The challenge is creating a diet that’s nutrient rich but also low in calories, and garlic is arguably one of the very best ingredients from this perspective.
Calorie for calorie, garlic is incredibly nutritious and healthy. More specifically, a single clove of approximately three grams comes with just 4.5 calories, while also including 0.2 grams of protein, 2% of your daily Vitamin B6 requirement and 1% of your recommended Vitamin C intake.
It also provides 2% of your Manganese daily value (DV), and 1% of your recommended Selenium intake, so it packs a real nutritional punch despite its overt lack of calories.
#3. It Can Help to Combat Common Colds and Illness
We’ve already touched on garlic’s innate ability to combat oxidative stress, thanks in part to its small role in helping to regulate our immune systems.
This is why garlic supplements are commonly used to boost the function of the immune system, after a large, 12-week study discovered that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds by 63% when compared with a placebo.
What’s more, the average length of cold and flu symptoms was reduced by an impressive 70%, from five days in the placebo group to just 1.5 days in the other gathering of respondents.
Further research found that a high dose of aged garlic extract (2.56 grams per day or above) dramatically reduced the number of days taken sick from work with a cold or similar illness. In fact, the number fell by some 61%, which is impressive from anyone’s perspective.
How to Store Garlic
Of course, if you’re going to fully realise these benefits and optimise the incredible taste of garlic, you’ll need to learn how to store it effectively.
Typically, garlic’s lifespan will depend entirely on how you store it and whether or not it has been peeled. In fact, a whole, unpeeled garlic head will last for up to six months in the right conditions, whereas unpeeled cloves are more perishable once separated from the bulb and may only last for around three weeks.
If you’ve peeled individual cloves, you’ll have just one week to use them in your dishes of choice. In instances where a recipe requires you to dice or mince the clove, we’d recommend that you use this within 24 hours so long as you store it in the fridge.
As we can, garlic’s lifespan diminishes incrementally as cloves are peeled, removed from the head and diced respectively, and you’ll need to keep this in mind when storing the food item. Here’s some further guidance to help you on your way:
How to Store Whole Garlic Heads
It’s definitely wise to keep the head intact for as long as possible prior to use, and the best place to store a whole head of garlic should be somewhere dry, dark and cool (other than your fridge).
But why not the fridge, we hear you ask? Well, this can create excess moisture that encourages the growth of mould and causes the bulb to deteriorate at a significantly increased pace.
Interestingly, this rule also applies to potatoes, which is why you should definitely avoid storing potatoes and garlic in the fridge together.
Instead of the fridge, identify a cool, dark, but accessible, storage place that will keep your garlic at room temperature (ideally somewhere between 60 and 65 degrees Celsius).
If you can, we’d also recommend that you identify areas in your home or kitchen that benefit from adequate ventilation. This also requires you to avoid storing whole garlic bulbs in a plastic bag, drawer or cupboard, although you can use paper and mesh containers if you wish.
What About Peeled or Chopped Garlic?
While the fridge is the last place that you’ll want to store your whole garlic heads, it may be your only option when dealing with peeled bulbs or a handful of exposed cloves.
In this instance, the lifespan of your garlic heads has already been compromised considerably, so you should seal up the cloves in an airtight container (such as a zip-top bag, if you have one) and then place them immediately in the fridge.
While this is less than ideal and the garlic may begin to lose its pungency after a day or two in the fridge, it will be fine to use and consume for around one week or so.
If you find that you’ve diced or minced or garlic than you need for a particular dish, this can also be stored in the fridge (albeit for no more than 48 hours). Once again, this will need to be sealed in an airtight container, although in this instance, we’d also recommend adding a dash of olive oil to help it retain its taste and freshness.
Can You Freeze Garlic?
Interestingly, you can also freeze garlic if you want to optimise the lifespan of bulbs but only intend to use small amounts for individual meals within a relatively short period of time.
However, to guarantee that your garlic retrains its freshness and taste, it should be frozen as quickly as possible in a safe and relevant bag. You should also add a label featuring the date that the food was frozen, whether you intend to store complete bulbs or peeled alternatives.
When freezing individual cloves, it’s important to ensure that these are peeled and separated completely ahead of time. Then, simply spread them evenly across a parchment-lined baking tray, before covering tightly with plastic wrap and being frozen overnight.
You can then remove them the next day and wrap them again (this time in foil), before being sealed in a freezer-compatible bag that’s accurately dated.
You’ll follow roughly the same process when dealing with diced, minced or chopped garlic. In this case, however, you should cover the evenly cut and spread garlic in oil, before covering this tightly and freezing overnight.
While it may not be visually appealing or appetising, this will create a frozen and rigid sheet of garlic paste. This should then be cut, wrapped and stored in evenly sized chunks, while you should also remember to use a label with the relevant date once again.
If you’re going to freeze or refrigerate garlic that has been mixed with oil, make sure that this is done immediately. After all, the longer it remains at room temperature, the greater the risk that it will develop botulism and potentially poison you when it’s eventually consumed.
Botulism is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, as fresh garlic can develop this when it’s left for too long in unsuitable conditions.
The Bottom Line – How Do You Know When Garlic Has Gone Bad?
The question that remains, of course, is how can you tell if your garlic has started to go off?
Well, a simple method is to give your unpeeled garlic head a gentle squeeze. If it’s resistant and feels firm, it will be good to go. If it’s soft, it may well be past its best and is likely to be out-of-date.
Look for the colour too, as peeled garlic cloves should be a clear shade of white or off-white in most instances. If the cloves are yellow or there’s overt signs of discolouration, the produce may have started the inevitable journey towards irreversible decay.
With these points in mind, you can begin to understand and realise the unique qualities and health benefits of garlic, through adequate storage and recognising when these items of food are past their use by date.
This also enables you to organise your kitchen efficiently, ensuring that each vegetable is stored suitably and in its correct place!