What's That Green Stuff Inside My Garlic?

At last, the bitter truth.

A bunch of garlic

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When you cut open a clove of garlic, you expect to find just a nice, creamy center. But sometimes you also see something tiny and green. What is it, where did it come from, and—more importantly—can you eat it?

“When garlic starts to turn green inside, it typically means that the garlic is sprouting,” Minwei Xu, assistant professor in the plant science department at North Dakota State University, and member of the Institute of Food Technologists’ Fruit & Vegetable Products Division, tells Spruce Eats.

“This occurs when the garlic begins to grow new shoots and roots, indicating that it is no longer fresh and has been stored for too long.”

Garlic sprouts when the cloves have been exposed to moisture and warm temperatures, said Xu. It’s common when the cloves have been stored somewhere warm and humid, like the pantry.

Sprouted garlic cloves

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Can You Eat It?

You can eat the garlic sprout, but some people find it to be bitter.

Dorie Greenspan, James Beard award-winning cookbook author, advises removing the germ by splitting the clove lengthwise and then using the tip of a small knife to lift away the sprout. “Eliminating the germ makes garlic less potent and more easily digestible,” she writes.

Professional chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz performed an experiment to see how the taste of a food changes when the sprout is left in the garlic versus when it’s removed.

Calling himself a “life-long green-germ plucker,” Lebovitz made mayonnaise and an individual serving of pasta both with and without the garlic sprout. He found that mayo made without the sprout was “lively and garlicky.” But the one made with the green sprout included had a bite and a “disagreeable” hot burn at the end after it was swallowed.

Next, he made pasta with sauteed garlic and said the two dishes—with and without the garlic sprout—were virtually indistinguishable.

“When using garlic raw, you should definitely remove the green germ,” Lebovitz advises. “For cooking, even though it didn’t make as much of a difference in my little taste test, I still advise plucking out the green sprout from the center, which I will continue to do, mostly because it brings me the same joy as cleaning the lint filter on my dryer.” 

How to Prevent Sprouting

The green sprout is a sign that garlic is losing both its flavor and nutritional value, Xu says.

To prevent the green growth, he advises storing garlic in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. He suggests storing it in the refrigerator, in a mesh bag or container with holes for air circulation, or in a dark, cool pantry. 

Don’t store garlic near produce that emits ethylene gas—like apples, potatoes, or tomatoes. That can make garlic sprout even more quickly. And don’t keep it anywhere damp or anywhere warm, like next to an oven or stove.

“Another way is to use the garlic as soon as possible and not store it for too long,” Xu suggests. “If you have a large amount of garlic, you can also separate the cloves and store them in small amounts so you can use them before they sprout.”