How Long is Garlic Good For?
In most cases, garlic doesn’t sell with a “best by” date. If you buy garlic that’s been prepared in any way, whether that means it’s been peeled by the grocery store, become garlic powder, garlic confit, garlic oil, garlic juice or processed into a paste and packaged into a tube, chances are that you will have some sort of expiration date to go off of, but that’s usually not true of fresh garlic bulbs. This article will focus on raw garlic or fresh garlic that comes complete as bulbs in its own all-natural papery skin. Though it doesn’t come with a label stating when it’s no longer good, garlic has its own natural way of telling you that it’s past its prime as an ingredient for cooking.
Factors That Influence Whether Garlic is “Good”
Unlike some foods, it’s a bit foolish to put a specific time limit on your garlic’s freshness. That’s because there’s no set amount of time between purchase and spoilage for garlic. Why is that? There are a few reasons, though it is chiefly because garlic is a natural food that hasn’t been processed and, therefore, tends to do what it likes. You can buy five heads of garlic on the same day and they’ll go bad days or even weeks apart from each other. Let’s explore the reasons behind this so you can get on the road to independently judging garlic before you use it.
Proximity to Growing Location
One big factor that can impact how fast your garlic goes bad is your proximity to its growing location. Garlic that has to travel to you from the other side of the world probably isn’t going to last as long as garlic that grew in your neighbor’s backyard. Though all garlic goes through the same basic process of being picked and drying out a bit before use, the interval between the end of the drying process and when you pick it up and take it home can be entirely unpredictable.
Even if your grocery store or market lists the origins of the garlic you’re buying, you may not be able to tell when it left its point of origin. While locally grown garlic isn’t necessarily guaranteed to stay fresher for longer, it’s a safe bet that garlic grown closer to home was picked not too long ago and it will most likely be stored at room temperature. Garlic that’s imported from far-flung locales needs to travel, often through slow transit methods like ship and train transport, and it can sit in customs for days before being cleared. Then it has to be distributed, sorted and set out for sale. By the time it reaches you, your garlic could already be well past its prime.
Duration in Storage Prior to Purchase
The amount of time it takes for a grocer to set garlic out for sale can also impact how fresh your garlic is when you receive it. In case it isn’t already clear, garlic has a longer period before it goes bad if it hasn’t been sitting around being transported or stored for days and days. This means that grocery stores with a large stock of garlic could theoretically be letting some of that stock gradually go bad as they work through what they have in their storage area.
So, even if you live in an agricultural area that relies on garlic as a major crop, it’s hard to tell exactly how fresh the garlic you’re buying is. It could be that the garlic you buy today is from the same shipment as the garlic you bought six weeks ago. The only way you can know for sure is to ask and you might not get a forthcoming answer. Plus, if the storage facilities your garlic was housed in at any point in this process weren’t properly cooled, that probably means faster spoilage as well.
How to Tell if Garlic Has Gone Bad
As you can see, there isn’t a magic number to let you know exactly when you should toss out your garlic. That doesn’t mean that you can’t tell when garlic is good or bad, though. Here are some things to look out for before you use garlic you aren’t sure about.
Most people assume that green sprouts growing out of their garlic cloves means the head has gone bad, but that’s not the case. Natural health enthusiasts insist that sprouted garlic has health benefits and should be used as normal, but if you don’t agree with this line of reasoning, you can still use your garlic. Just cut the clove in half lengthwise and pull out the sprout. If you really don’t like the taste of sprouted garlic, even without the bitter sprout intact, you can go ahead and throw it away. Better still, you can plant a few of those sprouted cloves and see if they take root and grow into a whole new garlic bulb!
Fresh garlic should be a very pale yellow color and it should be opaque. If yours is starting to look dull and brown or even take on a transparent hue, it’s time to toss it. The skin should be predominantly white (unless you’ve purchased purple garlic), but not all garlic is pristine. Remember that this is a crop that grows in the ground, so don’t immediately toss out ahead of garlic if it has some brown spots on the exterior skin. Crack open a clove and judge it that way. The exception here is if the skin smells of mold or mildew or has an obvious fuzzy mold growth. In that case, you can just throw the whole head away.
Fresh, edible garlic cloves should be firm and smooth. If your garlic is looking withered, mushy or rotten, it’s probably not worth using. There are some exceptions—you might be able to slice a clove in half to get rid of some of the nastier bits, but you can also just use another clove on the same head. Garlic doesn’t go bad all at once and because the individual cloves are segmented and separated from one another by the skin, you may actually find that only one clove has gone off while all the others are fine.
you can read here more about garlic measurements