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The (Actual) Truth About Sprouted Garlic

Those little green shoots don’t deserve their bad reputation.
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Published June 30, 2022.

Garlic sprouts have long been vilified in the kitchen. Conventional wisdom has it that cloves with thick, pale green shoots growing out of them are past their prime, and that if they must be used in cooking, the sprouts should be trimmed away, or risk infusing your food with their unpleasant, harsh flavor. 

But when we actually taste-tested sprouted cloves alongside sproutless ones, we discovered that garlic sprouts’ good name has been unfairly tarnished: When it comes to that bitterness associated with sprouted garlic, it’s the cloves themselves that are guilty, not the sprouts.

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What Does Sprouted Garlic Taste Like?

Sampled on their own, raw sprouts tasted herbal and grassy, while the cloves they came from tasted fiery and sharp compared to raw cloves that hadn't sprouted.

These findings make a lot of sense. While garlic can last up to a year in storage, it dries out as it ages. By the time a clove produces a sprout, it has lost considerable moisture and much of its sugar has been used to grow the sprout, so it tastes not only more intense but also less sweet.

Can You Cook with Sprouted Garlic?

Usually—yes. In most recipes, the difference between sprouted and unsprouted garlic was undetectable. Furthermore, it wasn’t necessary to remove the sprouts before cooking, since their flavor is actually quite mild.

When to Avoid Cooking with Sprouted Garlic 

The exceptions to this rule? Recipes that call for a lot of garlic (such as aglio e olio) or recipes where garlic is the primary flavoring (such as aioli). In these recipes, we found the fire of the old cloves to be overpowering, so it’s best to opt for fresher heads. 

How to Control Garlic’s Flavor—Whether Sprouted or Not 

Garlic’s pungent flavor and aroma can be amplified or dialed back depending on how you cut your cloves. The allium’s signature flavor comes from the compound allicin, which is produced when the walls of garlic are broken. So, the more you slice, chop, or crush garlic, the more potent the flavor will be. 

For mild garlic flavor: Use whole cloves, as our chicken with 32 cloves of garlic recipe instructs. Because the cloves’ cell walls haven’t been disturbed, no allicin has been produced.

For moderate garlic flavor: Slice your garlic, as we do in shrimp scampi. Slicing breaks down some of the cell walls, producing a small amount of allicin.

For strong garlic flavor: Mince your garlic, as we do to make garlic bread. And don’t forget, allicin continues to develop after it’s been produced, so your minced garlic will become more powerful as it sits.

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