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Every time I went out vegetable shopping during this pandemic, I was uncomfortable about the freshness, shelf life, and flavor of fresh vegetables I bought in bulk. But I never thought twice about buying garlic in bulk. It is no secret that garlic has a long shelf life.
The white color of the bulb, its firm and crisp feel, and not overwhelmingly flavorful are the main criterion for detecting if garlic is fresh or not. The other things that determine their freshness include shelf life, ways of storing them, the form in which they are stored, and storage temperature.
Garlic gives that heart-winning flavor and taste to any dish it is used in and is the heartthrob of every culinary enthusiast. However, it is best when used fresh. So, let's look more closely at the life of garlic in your kitchen.
How to Store Garlic
Braided Garlic - I love the look of the long strands of braided garlic that hang in the traditional kitchen of homesteads as a natural decoration. For ages, we have been using freshly harvested bulbs for this purpose. Garlic is sun-dried along with its stems. Then, trim the roots and clean off all dirt. Pick up roughly a dozen to two dozen of garlic bulbs and plait them into long braids. Hang them in a cool, dry, and dark place in your kitchen. Pluck them off the braid and use them whenever you need them.
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Storing in the Kitchen – Coming back to the reality of city life, I stock my store-bought garlic in a large-holed or loosely woven basket or mesh bag. They provide excellent aeration to the bulbs stored in them. Remember to keep them away from direct sunlight and moisture, preferably in a shady place that keeps cool throughout the day. I have observed that garlic stays best if they are stored this way with their tops up.
Refrigeration - Regarding refrigeration of the bulbs, garlic doesn't store well in the fridge and will make them sprout. Sprouted garlic clove is not something you might want to use in your cooking. Garlic sprouts taste a bit bitter. Just chop off the green shoot, and the rest of the clove is good to go into your dish.
Freezing is the best word in my gastronomic dictionary. It is an instant solution to many of my woes in the kitchen but freezing garlic is not one of them. The problem with freezing garlic is that it becomes extremely mushy on thawing and loses its flavor. It doesn't go bad but should be used immediately once taken out and brought back to room temperature.
Storing Garlic in Different Forms
Bulbs or Cloves - A whole pod stores longer and fresher for about 3-6 months at most. Remove the odd clove immediately from the bulb if you find it changed in color, sunken or shriveled, brown or black, beginning to rot or entirely rotten, wrinkled in appearance. If left unattended, they will start spoiling their buddies, and the whole bulb will be off.
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The loose cloves stay fresh for a month or two. Make sure to store your pods with their heads up.
Peeled Garlic – Spare time like watching a movie or a video on YouTube can be best used by peeling garlic cloves. Pre-peeled garlic cloves help us accelerate the cooking prep and come in handy for people who need to pre-plan their meals. Unfortunately, peeled cloves cannot be stored outside at room temperature, unlike their unpeeled counterparts. Keeping them in air-tight containers inside the fridge for about a week is your best bet. As I said before, freezing the pods and de-freezing them will make them lose their crispiness.
Chopped/Crushed/Ground Garlic – Has your meal plan changed? The best way to put away the chopped garlic is to store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. It can keep well for 7-10 days, but I would try and use them within three days. In the freezer, they hold up well anywhere from 10-12 months, but you are sure to lose some of its lovely flavor and texture over that period.
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As far as crushed/pulverized garlic is concerned, I add half a teaspoon of salt to make it last longer, refrigerate it, and use it as and when needed.
Store-Bought Chopped/Crushed Garlic – Allow me to tell you a little secret here. Pre-chopped garlic loses its structural integrity and flavor when they are minced. Garlic is available in shops in this form as a convenient product for those who don't have time and energy for peeling and mincing.
Garlic Infused Oil – My whole being delights at the very thought of it. Homemade garlic-infused oils are a good way of putting those extra chopped or crushed garlic into use. It may sound tempting, but it is not safe if the preparation process is mishandled as it will cause botulism. Botulism occurs under anaerobic conditions (absence of air) when fresh garlic, a mild acid food, is covered with oil at room temperature.
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If you are a frugal cook like me who doesn't take no for an answer and believes that everything can be made at home, carefully make the garlic-infused oil in small portions. Be extra cautious and always store it inside the refrigerator and use them up within a month.
If you had absent-mindedly kept the bottle outside, never take chances and immediately throw it out. The infusion would have grown Clostridium botulinum bacteria. You will never know it as the taste and color will never give it away.
Store-Bought Garlic Infused Oil – Oil, wine, and vinegar are used to preserve garlic. It would be best to store it in the fridge and keep it for as long as 2-3 months.
This oil you purchased from the shop undergoes a particular procedure to make it more acidic. It also contains preservatives to improve its shelf life.
Always check the expiry date before you buy. Apart from the expiry date, you can notice that it also has a "once opened date." Write the date of opening in a marker pen on the bottle. Follow the "best before" time limit religiously to avoid any food poisoning issues.
Sensory Indicators of Freshness
Sight – You may notice that a whole pod looks white but dig in deeper and see the color of the peeled garlic.Color is one thing that gives off peeled garlic immediately. If your garlic is yellow-tinted or worse, has started having brown spots, it isn't so bad that you can't use them, but they are not fresh either. It is high time you use up the garlic pods or else, they will have to be trashed sooner or later. Pods with black patches need to be disposed of immediately to save the rest of the pod from decay.
Smell –You might have noticed that the garlic bulb, if not broken, doesn't have much of an aroma to it. If it gives out an awful odor, you will surely know that it has begun to rot. You can very well throw the bulbs out as they can't be redeemed.
Texture– The hard texture and crispiness are the next in my checklist. Press the garlic pods gently to see if they give in or stay firm. Oozing liquid and squishy pods are signs that your pods have begun to rot and are ready to go into your compost.
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The cook or the gardener in you is sure to let out a squeal of dismay or joy all at once when you see the sprouts. Stay calm.
They are good to go into both the pots, the cooking pot and the dirt pot. If you want to cook the sprouted garlic, chop off the green part and use the rest of the clove as usual; there is no harm.
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Alternatively, you can go ahead and pot them in a dirt pot as well. Once potted, the sprouts will soon grow out tender, edible garlic leaves, which you can use for your cooking projects.
Garlic and Botulism
Did you know that Clostridium botulinum is the name of the bacteria that causes botulism, a type of food poisoning?
This bacteria produces spores that help them to survive under adverse conditions. They are found in the soil where garlic plants are cultivated. Garlic pods harbor some of these microscopic spores, which remain dormant for the most part, and don't pose a health hazard even if consumed.
These bacteria only seem to thrive under anaerobic conditions, low acid, low sugar, low salt, a particular temperature, and a certain amount of moisture. Unfortunately, when garlic is immersed in oil, the room temperature, low acidic nature of garlic, dampness, and anaerobic condition make the spores come alive. These active spores cause botulism.
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The symptoms will probably start to show up after 18-36 hours. They include chiefly skeletal muscle paralysis, which in turn affects the rest of the body. They affect the muscles responsible for moving and breathing. Partial paralysis slowly progresses into total paralysis of these muscles.
The symptoms generally include:
- Swallowing difficulty.
- Muscle weakness.
- Double vision/blurred vision.
- Slurred speech.
- Breathing difficulty.
- Difficulty moving the eyes.
Other possible signs and symptoms of food-borne botulism also include:
- Stomach pain.
This condition can be fatal if left untreated, and the patient needs to seek immediate medical attention.
Garlic, the Miracle Food
"Food is medicine" is my policy.
photo by Luca Nardone/pexels
Apart from the fact that garlic is an irreplaceable and indispensable ingredient in my kitchen, it has many health benefits which no one can ignore. Garlic, when consumed in the right amounts, is a superfood for the human race. But sadly, it is also one of the most misunderstood and wrongly judged food.
Garlic has been around for a long time and has proven benefits on regular consumption. Let me list a few here:
- It prevents heart disease.
- It lowers bad cholesterol levels.
- It helps and improves our immune system.
- It acts as a natural blood thinner and has anti-clotting properties.
- Acts as an anti-inflammatory.
- It is loaded with nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, fiber, calcium, copper, potassium, iron, vitamin B1, phosphorus, iron, and trace amounts of others.
- It helps fight against common cold and flu-like illnesses.
- It helps prevent neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
- It is a heavy metal detoxifying agent.
- It reduces the risk of lung, brain, and prostate cancer.
- It is a powerful antibiotic.
- It prevents osteoarthritis.
- It helps in easing breathing difficulty.
- It reduces fatigue.
How to Buy Fresh Garlic
Summing up, let's quickly see how we choose and select the fresh garlic from the store. The best route to go is to see if they are tightly bound to the top, firm and tough to gentle press, not wrinkly, papery skin, and it weighs well for their size. They should not be too aromatic as it happens only if the pods inside have been disturbed by either crushing or have just started to go bad.
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Procuring fresh produce from the market, storing the groceries and vegetables properly, cooking them into tasty dishes, and relishing a warm, hot meal is a never-ending cycle of everyone's life.
Salads, cut vegetables, smoked fish, precooked meat, sandwiches, desserts, canned beans, precooked meat, baked delicacies, and other ready-to-eat food are at our disposal in the supermarkets. It sure makes our life easier, but unfortunately, most of the nutrition is stripped off from the food during the preservation process, and we end up eating not-so-healthy food. It is okay if it is once in a while; everyone deserves a break and a holiday. But when this becomes a habit, our body takes the blow in the long run.
Home-cooked food made from scratch with hand-picked ingredients from the store, not storing the procurement for a long time, using them fresh, and meticulous preparation of delectable dishes may not be so easy but is a rewarding experience at the end of it all.
Wishing you success in all your endeavors!