If you love cooking with garlic, you probably use it in everything from sauces, soups and stews to veggie dishes, pizza, pasta and even eggs. Which means you likely always have some on hand. In which case, you've probably found that it doesn't always stay fresh as long as you might like.
Sure, garlic is inexpensive, but that doesn't mean you want to waste it, or have to make extra shopping trips to buy more. So what's the best way to keep garlic fresh in your home?
Compared with many vegetables, garlic will last a relatively long time no matter what. But for maximum shelf-life, garlic prefers a fairly narrow range of specific conditions.
Selecting and Buying Garlic
The first thing you can do to ensure your garlic lasts as long as possible is to make sure the garlic you buy at the store is as fresh as it can be. When choosing your garlic bulbs, look for ones that are firm (i.e. don't give when squeezed), with tight, dry skins, and are free from any black powdery substance which is, in fact, mold.
Your garlic bulbs should also show no signs of sprouting. If you see the beginnings of green shoots emerging from the tops, skip those bulbs.
Keep It Cool (But Not Cold)
The most crucial factor for storing garlic is temperature. And the best temperature for storing garlic is one that's cool, but not cold, and definitely not warm. The ideal temperature is around 60 to 65 F.
And if your kitchen naturally runs at that temperature, you're in good shape. But kitchens rarely stay at 60 to 65 F on their own, especially all year round, and it's a difficult temperature to produce artificially. The best you can realistically do, then, is find the coolest location in your kitchen and keep your garlic there. This typically means a cupboard, away from the stove, oven and any other heat sources (including sunlight) and one that's situated as close to the floor as possible.
The inside of your fridge will, of course, be colder than 60 F, and is therefore not the best place to store garlic. You can store it there for short periods, and in certain cases it's actually preferable, and we'll discuss those shortly. But overall, think cool, not cold.
Keep it Dry
Another enemy of fresh garlic is moisture. A humid environment will cause your garlic to rot. And depending on the climate where you live, you might not have much control over this, especially in the summer. But there are a couple of things you can do.
One, make sure you don't store your whole garlic bulbs in plastic bags of any kind. Not only will this prevent air circulation, but it will also trap the natural moisture of the garlic, thus accelerating spoilage.
And two, if you must refrigerate it, keep it in the main part of your refrigerator rather than in the crisper drawers. Or, keep it in the crisper drawer on the low humidity setting and preferably alone, as opposed to crowded in with a bunch of other items.
Keep It Ventilated
Garlic needs to breathe to stay fresh. If it's sealed up it will start to rot or become moldy. And yet we've already said that the kitchen cupboard is the best place for storing garlic, and obviously there isn't a huge amount of air flow in a kitchen cupboard. But we're trying to balance all the factors, and temperature is more important than ventilation.
Still, though there might not be much airflow in a cupboard, there's even less in a drawer. So given a choice, go for the cupboard over the drawer. Likewise, if you have a crowded cupboard, and an empty one, use the empty one. Paper bags are better than plastic, and mesh bags are better than paper. Best is no bag at all. Worst of all is a plastic bag.
Can You Refrigerate Garlic?
You can refrigerate whole garlic bulbs, but they won't last as long. This might seem counterintuitive, but refrigerating garlic causes it to sprout much more rapidly. Garlic is typically planted in the fall, and its roots develop in the fall and winter, when the ground is cold. So refrigerated garlic will last a few weeks before sprouting, as opposed to months when stored at 60 to 65 F. With that said, assuming you use it quickly, it should be fine.
And also note that sprouted garlic is perfectly safe to eat, as are the shoots themselves, although they can impart a bitter flavor to the garlic. If your garlic starts to sprout, you can simply peel and slice the cloves lengthwise and then remove the green shoot from the center of the clove using your fingers or the tip of your knife.
Keep It Whole
One of the reasons garlic lasts so long is that its natural structure of individually wrapped cloves covered by a papery outer skin is remarkably effective at keeping the cloves cool and dry while allowing them to breathe, which, as we've seen, are the most optimal conditions for it.
Indeed, assuming all other conditions (i.e. temperature, humidity and so on) are acceptable, a whole bulb of garlic can easily stay fresh and unsprouted for several months.
But all of that changes when you break up the bulb. Once you start separating the cloves, whatever is left will succumb to spoilage within 10 days or so. But obviously the whole point of buying garlic is to use it. But the point is, once you break up a bulb, plan on using it up within 10 days. You can also peel the remaining cloves, seal them in a plastic baggie or other airtight container and refrigerate them for 2 to 3 days.