Maximizing garlic health benefits and storage​

I view garlic as far more than a culinary delight, it’s also a powerful medicinal herb.  Long renowned for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, studies have shown it to be a powerful anti-oxidant and immune system booster as well as a powerful curative for circulatory and lung ailments.  Because cooking destroys a significant portion of the compounds which make garlic so valuable to our health, we encourage you to consume garlic raw whenever possible.  That’s also why we do not sell any products (other than black garlic) that contains cooked garlic, all our prepared products are made with raw garlic.

While there are 28 specific medicinal compounds identified in garlic, there are 3 that dominate the discussion; Allicin, Alliin and Alliinase.  These chemicals and their relationship with each other hold the key to making garlic a medicinal food rather than just a culinary delight. Allicin the primary anti-oxidant and source of garlic's pungent taste and distinctive aroma is not actually present in whole cloves.  It needs to be created. The raw clove contains Allin, a sulfur compound and Alliinase, an enzyme, each locked up in separate cells. Together they create Allicin.  This happens when the clove is cut, crushed or minced and alliin is dissected by allinase creating sulfenic acid and ammonium pyruvate. Within seconds, the sulfenic acid condenses to forms allicin. That's why you don't get the strong smell of garlic from whole cloves (the same is true for onions and other aliums).  

Garlic begins to dry as soon as it is harvested; it continues to slowly lose moisture until it is eaten or stabilized with one of the methods discussed below.  Until you take steps to stabilize your garlic it will continue to lose moisture and become hotter and more pungent.

Dehydrating garlic stops this process and preserves the garlic at whatever pungency and flavor level it was when it was sliced and dried. Since drying ruins the satisfying crunch of fresh garlic you may want to consider pickling or preserving as well.  Garlic dried in a dehydrator (not a hot oven) will retain the beneficial health compounds that are destroyed by high heat.  The idea is to dehydrate the garlic, not cook it. Crushed, chopped or powdered garlic that has been dried results in odorous fat-soluble polysulfides that circulate in the lymphatic system and have anti-tumor properties and other health benefits.

Pickled garlic has entirely different beneficial compounds than dried or cooked garlic and works differently pharmacologically.  Pickled garlic doesn’t give you either immediate or secondary garlic breath or garlic odor as cooked, fresh or dried garlic does. The acid in vinegar neutralizes the Alliinase and slowly breaks down the rest of the cloves into odorless, water-soluble compounds that circulate via the bloodstream, mostly S-allyl cysteine (SAC), the active ingredient in Kyolic brand of aged garlic extract. Kyolic has many studies demonstrating that SAC lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar levels as well as inhibiting platelet aggregation. While SAC may have some anti-tumor properties, the odorous sulfides have far greater anti-cancer properties. What we like is that the longer you leave the garlic in the vinegar, the more SAC is formed - for 2-3 years; It just gets better with age.  The vinegar becomes garlic vinegar with just as much SAC content as the pickled garlic. Since you’re not using heat, the garlic cloves break down slowly into the SAC and for the first couple of years, there is residual Allicin in the pickled garlic so you get both the fat-soluble polysulfide compounds as well as the water-soluble SAC.  Gradually, the as the pungency decreases, the remaining Alliinase is neutralized and eventually the fat-solubles completely disappear, leaving only the water-solubles.  These continue to increase as the vinegar converts the main bodies of the cloves into SAC and other water-solubles.  The fat-solubles are important because they have anti-tumor properties whereas water-solubles circulate in the bloodstream and have more circulatory system benefits.  Those who have digestive issues with garlic should investigate using garlic as a suppository.  This is a way to use garlic medicinally without any involvement with the digestive system. Growing and pickling your own garlic is a great and inexpensive way to enjoy excellent flavor as well as maximizing its health benefits. 

There is some debate as to whether frozen garlic has the same health benefits or not when it is frozen whole or chopped or crushed first. Garlic that is frozen whole may not be as efficacious as the Alliinase is suggested to have been neutralized by the cold and while it remains flavorful, the polysulfides are never formed. On the other hand, if you crush or finely chop garlic and wait about 5 minutes before freezing, it will have formed the Allicin and the sulfides will form upon thawing and result in the health benefits that studies have shown for garlic.

5 Ways to Save your Garlic and
​Never Throw any Away

Over the last 10 years of growing and selling garlic I believe the most often asked question (besides which is your favorite) is which varieties store the longest.  At first, I attempted to answer this question based on reviews by others and my own observations.  Over time, however, I came to the understanding that once you understand garlic you realize this is a silly question.  It’s not how long it will store, but rather, how can I keep it from deteriorating until next year’s harvest.

It’s important to remember that garlic cloves are not seeds; they are plants (formed through bulbular division) and that they are alive after harvesting and continue to be alive until eaten or otherwise destroyed. Curing them simply places them into a form of hibernation. Once planted, each clove will awaken to begin developing a new, fully cloved plant.

From the moment you harvest your garlic until the day you do something with it, the clove is losing moisture and intensifying its heat and pungency. This will continue until you either take steps to stop the moisture loss or the clove begins to lose texture and becomes less palatable.  It could also suffer other forms of deterioration due to opportunistic bacteria or fungus.  The point is that it’s not the garlic that determines how long it will keep, it’s you that determines how and when you will stop the drying process.

There are at least 7 ways to keep your garlic from spoiling; I dismiss 2 of them (cured or dried, and stored in oil).  The 5 techniques I do endorse are:

  • Dehydrating 
  • Pickling 
  • Preserving 
  • Freezing and 
  • Caramelizing.  

Each method has its own purpose, benefits and drawbacks, so I will discuss each in detail.

1.) Dehydrating:

Dehydrating is one of my favorite methods of storing garlic.  It’s a long-term storage method that is safe and easy and one that keeps most of the health benefits and taste of the original garlic.  Texture is lost, but since that can be maintained with preserving and pickling, I don’t think this should be a problem, plus without dehydrating, you can’t make your own garlic powder and/or garlic grinders.  Until you taste your own garlic powder, you won’t believe the difference.  You can keep several containers of different strength garlics at home so you can use whichever suits your particular dish, hot for some, and savory for subtler dishes.

There are 4 key points for dehydrating. 

  1. Use only firm, clean, healthy cloves.
  2. Slice your cloves evenly.
  3. Dehydrate at 110 - 116 degrees F. (don’t trust thermostats on dehydrators, measure it).
  4. Dehydrate completely and store chips in tightly sealed containers with desiccant.

Start by cleaning your garlic just like you were going to eat it.  Rinse the cleaned garlic and then slice it using a food processor.  I find that it is important to put pressure on the garlic in the feed tube to prevent the machine from making a lot of little bits.  The food processor will give you consistently sliced garlic that will make it much easier to dry evenly.  The slicing of the garlic also allows air to reach your garlic which initiates the oxygen led creation of beneficial chemicals discussed elsewhere on our site. Variably sliced garlic is difficult to dry as you will have the thicker pieces still wet while the smaller thinner ones will be so dry they start to darken a bit.  The drying time will depend on the thickness of your slices, the ambient relative humidity, the amount of air circulation, and the temperature of your dehydrator.  You must keep the temperature below 118 degrees F. because temperatures above that will destroy some of the Allicin compounds that give garlic many of its curative powers.  The dehydration is done when every chip cracks when bent.  Test a few of the biggest slices in each drying rack to make sure they are all dry.  Just keep drying the whole batch until all your chips are dry.  After that you should empty your trays onto clean newspaper and then transfer to tightly sealed, preferably glass, containers.  You should add some food safe desiccant packages (available on Ebay) to each to make sure your dried garlic doesn’t start re-hydrating from moist air.  This is not a serious problem in arid places like Arizona or Alaska, but dried garlic has a very high affinity for moisture and it should not be exposed to humid environments.

OK, so now you have your dehydrated garlic, now what.  I like to separate the big chips from the smaller ones and store them in separate containers (after storing several varieties in their own containers).  The small chips are ideal for use in a spice grinder.  If you select a grinder that allows an adjustable grind, you now have your own garlic powder and your own garlic bits.  The larger chips are great for using in roasts, soups, chili, etc.  The chips will absorb the flavors of the food you are cooking while adding their own garlic flavor as well. 

2.) Pickling:

Pickling garlic is a fast, easy and nearly permanent storage solution.  When you pickle garlic yourself, you don’t need to hot-pack your garlic as we are required to when we prepare pickled garlic for sale.  All you need to do is clean your garlic as you were going to eat it, place in a sterile glass gar and then cover with 5% vinegar.  You can use white, apple cider or live mother vinegar.  After filling your jar put a lid on it and refrigerate (I like to use the plastic canning jar lids which never rust as the tin ones are prone to do).  After a month or 2 you have both garlic vinegar and pickled garlic.  This mix just gets better and better the longer it sits.  There is a multiplicative effect on both fat and water soluble compounds due to the interaction of your garlic and the vinegar.  While the garlic will never ‘spoil, it will lose it crunch after about a year.  As the garlic ages, it will become transparent, indicating it is transitioning from its initial stage to its final one (see health benefits of garlic detailed elsewhere on our site).  I advise keeping your initial garlic for 2 years, rotating about ½ of the remaining cloves each year as you harvest a new crop.  That way you have the healthiest garlic and vinegar possible.  If your garlic turns green or blue-green, don’t worry unless the garlic you’re pickling is from the store.  Generally home grown garlic grown in soil with iron and/or copper will become colored.  Unfortunately cadmium, arsenic and lead will also do this, so if in doubt, have your soil analyzed.  If your vinegar drops below the top of your garlic simply add more vinegar.  Likewise if you are low on garlic, add more as needed (if you also use method 3, you can transfer some of that to your pickled garlic.  I have had the same ½ gal jug for more than 7 years.  It is fabulous.

3.) Preserving:

Preserving is an intermediate term storage method that is very similar to pickling but differs solely in the amount of vinegar used.  The purpose of preserving garlic is to have fresh tasting garlic available from harvest to harvest, ie. for about a year.  The texture and taste of your preserved garlic will be very close to what it was when you first processed it.  Instead of adding full strength vinegar to your jar of freshly cleaned garlic you simply cover your garlic with distilled water and then add a small amount of white vinegar.  You are simply lowering the PH of the water solution enough to avoid spoilage.  This lowered PH along with the lower temperature of refrigeration is simply preventing spoilage.  I learned this method from a customer a couple of years ago and it works great.  I prefer white vinegar so I can see everything going on in the jar better than with a darker vinegar.  The amount of vinegar can be more than what I advise, it just can’t be less.  The more vinegar you add, the more the taste will resemble pickled garlic; the less you use (to the recommended minimum) the more it will taste like fresh garlic.


1 quart jar filled with garlic and covered with distilled water – ADD 1 TABLESPOON VINEGAR 

½ gallon jar filled with garlic and covered with distilled water – ADD 2 TABLESPOONS VINEGAR.

Use the same ratio for other size jars, remembering to first fill the container with cleaned garlic cloves, then cover with distilled water, and then finally adding your vinegar. 

4.) Freezing: 

Freezing is a longer term (1-3 years) method of keeping your garlic.  Freezing will destroy the texture and reduce Allicin content, but it is fast and easy.  Since freezing lowers Allicin content, it is recommended that you first chop your garlic and expose it to air for 10-20 minutes before freezing to increase beneficial compounds and make up for some of the loss due to freezing.  I like to freeze my minced garlic in small, serving sized, plastic containers. The frozen garlic is now stable and ready to use in soups, stews, and any dish made in a blender like our tapenade or hummus.

5.) Fermenting: (Black Garlic)

caramelizing is a semi-permanent way to keep garlic as well as a way to transform your garlic into a super-food with greatly increased antioxidant properties.  Caramelized garlic (otherwise known as Black Garlic) is not only healthier than raw garlic, it also tastes very different, almost candy-like, with a soft creamy texture.  Developed as a preservation method centuries ago in Korea, it has become a much talked about, highly sought after and expensive garlic product.Caramelizing is somewhat difficult and requires close attention to temperature and humidity and takes 4-6 weeks to finish, but once you get the ‘knack”, it can be a great way to stabilize some of your garlc. 

The idea is to keep whole heads of garlic (with all the wrappers intact) at a constant temperature of approximately 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 20 days.  This temperature is beneath the 180 or so degrees which would destroy any beneficial compounds and the fermentation actually increases many of them dramatically.  After fermenting, the garlic may be wet and a bit sticky.  Just allow it to dry out a bit. The transformation is dramatic in terms of texture, taste, weight and nutritional value. While this may seem too good to be believed, it’s efficacy has been verified by numerous studies.  You can learn more by Googling “black garlic”. Another benefit of fermenting garlic is that it will store, at room temperature for years so long as it is not allowed to dry out too much.

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