Can You Cook with Sprouted Garlic?

As a species, we’ve been handling garlic for more than 7,000 years: Ancient Egyptians left it as an offering in tombs, Indians hung it from doors to ward off evil spirits, and as late as last century, during both World Wars, it was used to prevent gangrene. But even after working with Allium sativum for many centuries, one misconception still remains—that garlic with green sprouts at the center of the cloves is unsafe.

As garlic ages, it develops a spicier, sharper taste; it also starts to sprout. This is not spoilage—garlic isn’t spoiled until it turns soft, or develops dark spots on the cloves. Basically, using sprouted garlic or not comes down to taste and personal preference.

Haters of sprouted garlic say it tastes bitter. The late cookbook author Richard Olney thought so: He instructed readers to avoid it, or if they absolutely had no choice, to cut out and discard the green sprouts. But some cooks (me, for instance) think sprouted garlic, even the sprouts themselves, taste just fine. Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm in Northern California removes the green sprouts not to throw in the compost bin, but for making stock, so that no part of the garlic plant goes to waste. And the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that garlic sprouted for five days has higher heart-healthy antioxidant activity than fresh garlic.

If you’re not sure where you come down on sprouted garlic, try slicing a sprouted clove in half lengthwise and removing the sprout before using. If you think it still tastes bitter (or at all funny), seek out a new bulb that feels tight and heavy, an indication of freshness. And to delay sprouting, store garlic bulbs in a dark, cool, dry place like your pantry or a kitchen drawer (the fridge has too much moisture).

If you find you can’t stand the taste of sprouted garlic, don’t throw it away! Save the individual sprouted cloves, and, as the San Francisco Chronicle suggests, plant them to grow your own garlic plants. Plant the cloves directly in your garden, or in a container 8 inches deep and 12 inches wide (plant the cloves sprout-side up and 4 inches apart). Keep in mind, though, that most cloves will not produce those delicious garlic scapes that you buy in the spring and early summer at farmers’ markets. Edible garlic scapes only grow on hardneck garlic plants—unless you know for sure that you have one of those, the scapes definitely will be bitter.

How does sprouted garlic taste to you?

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