Good Garlic

July 8, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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There was this time, long ago, when I was writing my first book and talking on the phone to Amanda Hesser who I revered and who kindly agreed to give me tips about shopping at the farmer’s market. I was trying to get a grasp on how to know which ingredients were in season, which were good, which were bad, etc. At some point I said, “Well I guess garlic is one of those things that’s always the same no matter where you get it?” No, actually I said: “Well I guess garlic can’t be fresh can it?” And Amanda Hesser set me straight: “Of course garlic can be fresh…”

“How do you know if it’s fresh?” I asked.

“It’s really tight and firm,” she explained. “The cloves aren’t coming apart.”

That moment stayed with me; mostly because I was a beginning food writer and the world of fresh ingredients and people who know about fresh ingredients seemed so far away. I was a little embarrassed.

Since then, I’ve always looked for tight/firm garlic at the grocery store. Only recently, though, have I started to notice garlic at farmer’s markets. And you know what? It’s the best.

Look at the garlic in the above photo, sitting there in the sunlight. The papery exterior couldn’t be whiter. The cloves are all tightly compressed.

Most importantly, when you take good garlic home and cut into a clove, you don’t find that bitter green stem inside that Jacques Pepin tells you to remove. That’s because this is higher quality garlic.

The main reason is that while all garlic has to be cured (for several months)** before you can eat it, grocery stores can let garlic sit out for a really long time; farmer’s markets don’t do that. So the garlic has a different taste than grocery store garlic. The cloves are firmer, smoother, less dented and discolored.

So the next time you’re at the farmer’s market, stock up on some good garlic. And the next time you talk to Amanda Hesser, you won’t embarrass yourself.

** Turns out I had this wrong (see comments). The garlic cures for just a few days and then, after, will last several months. Thanks, Sara, for pointing that out. (So much for not embarrassing myself.)

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Categories: Food Bits

  • Sara

    Adam,

    I love you, so please don’t think I am slamming you, but what the heck are you talking about? Garlic absolutely does not need to cure for several months – it cures for a few days outside after it has been picked. I do hope that was a typo. Also, the absence of the green stem has nothing to do with the quality of the garlic and everything to do with the freshness of the garlic. Farmers market garlic is superior to grocery store garlic for the same reason that most vegetables are – it is much, much, much fresher.

    Sincerely,
    A backyard farmer

  • LemonyGossip

    Very important NOT to buy Chinese garlic. Look for “Product of USA”.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Ah, thanks Sara… I don’t feel slammed! I think I was just confused because once it’s cured it’ll last several months. I appreciate you setting me straight.

  • Anonymous

    On at least one show, Mr. Pepin said that he doesn’t remove the green sprouted bit when he cooks at home: that it’s fine. I’ve tasted it and… it tastes like garlic! In classic French cooking of course garlic is expected to be perfectly white and uniform, thus the myth of the bitter sprout. Cured garlic keeps longer because it’s dried. I think there are a few garlic issues mixed up in this post– garlic doesn’t need to be cured before you can eat it, it just keeps better after it has been dried.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Oh maybe that’s what I was thinking of… that he says it’s ok to eat the green part, not that he says not to eat it. Boy, this post is turning out to be a total disaster!

  • Robin @ our semi organic life

    question is – how much should you pay for good garlic? I bought some at the farmers market this weekend for $1/head. They didn’t seem that big either.

  • Ani

    My dad grows our own garlic every year. Unfortunately it doesn’t last very long. We eat it so fast since it tastes so much better than store bought! I also find that it’s smaller, so the flavour is more concentrated.

  • Salt River Garlic

    Hmm, most garlic farmers I know let their garlic cure for about four to six weeks. You can tell when your garlic’s cured by pinching the stem about an inch above where the stalk and bulb meet. If it still feels wet, or if the stem tends to give, it’s not cured. Hope this helps. :)

  • Salt River Garlic

    Do you know what type of garlic you bought at your local farmer’s market? Different garlic varieties have different flavor profiles, like wines. Some are hot, some are mild, some are sweet when roasted, some work particularly well in cooking.

  • Lisa

    If you have a green stem inside your garlic, it simply means that the garlic is older and ready to sprout – if you keep the clove around, you’ll soon see that little green point poking out of the top of the clove. You can plant the clove at this point (a pot in a sunny location works well)! There are literally hundreds of types of garlic (worldwide) and if you see different varieties at your local farmer’s markets, you should give them a try, as each variety carries different flavour notes.

  • Sara

    OK! Better than several months. I don’t cure that long, but then again, I’m not in the garlic business.

  • tunie

    It does cost a bit more to have someone who’s not an illegal immigrant working for less than minimum wage – a useless rate anyway – bring you your food.

  • James in NZ

    I also avoid Chinese garlic here in New Zealand, but it’s because I prefer to support local agro. Is there another reason to avoid it?

  • Misha Davydov

    hey adam!

    i recently had some peculiar garlic at a friend’s japanese restaurant. he deep fried the entire head (skin and all), rendering the skin crispy and easily peeled and the actual garlic buttery soft. the garlic he used, however, was bright purple and about the size of elephant garlic. the texture wasn’t like normal garlic, it has a very starchy, almost boiled potato-like feel to each clove.

    i’m a die-hard garlic fan, and new to the amateur gourmet. been reading for a few weeks now, and i love what i see. keep up the good work.

  • http://poormankitchen.wordpress.com/ Anonymous

    hey adam!

    i recently had some peculiar garlic at a friend’s japanese restaurant. he deep fried the entire head (skin and all), rendering the skin crispy and easily peeled and the actual garlic buttery soft. the garlic he used, however, was bright purple and about the size of elephant garlic. the texture wasn’t like normal garlic, it has a very starchy, almost boiled potato-like feel to each clove.

    i’m a die-hard garlic fan, and new to the amateur gourmet. been reading for a few weeks now, and i love what i see. keep up the good work.

  • Charles Berry

    Thanks for the info. I happen to use clove garlic in most of my recipes.

  • Elaine Arthur

    Hi, We are gourmet garlic farmers in Keremeos, BC, Canada and you cure garlic for 3 weeks approximately. Hope that clears it up for people.

    Have fun with your garlic, support your local farmers and farmers markets, they sell the best types of garlic, check out https://www.facebook.com/DiggingDogsFarm

  • Dajana Vidakovic

    I love see what you writter and I love see you bloog I loe kitchen food cake