Garlic is a versatile and flavorful ingredient used in cuisines around the world. However, fresh garlic only lasts for a few weeks before it starts to sprout and lose flavor. Storing unpeeled garlic properly can extend its shelf life for several months. The key is creating the right storage conditions to slow sprouting and spoilage.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about storing unpeeled garlic long-term. We’ll cover ideal storage containers, locations, temperatures and humidity levels. We’ll also provide tips to maximize freshness and prevent mold growth. With the right techniques, you can keep garlic on hand for months without compromising on flavor or quality.
Choose an Airtight Container
The first step to long-term garlic storage is choosing the right container. An airtight container is essential to prevent drying out and slow sprouting. Opt for a container with a tight-sealing lid. Glass, plastic or ceramic containers all work well. Avoid containers with lids that aren’t airtight or have rubber seals that may degrade over time.
Some good options include:
- Glass jars with lids
- Plastic food storage containers
- Ceramic canisters with rubber sealed lids
Avoid frequent opening and closing of the container, which lets in fresh air and moisture. Only open when necessary to limit exposure to air and light. Make sure dried garlic skins or roots don’t block the seal of the lid.
Choose a Cool, Dark Location
Once you’ve chosen a suitable airtight container, the next key factor is storage location. Garlic stays fresh longest when stored in a cool, dark place. Light and warmth encourage sprouting and spoilage.
The ideal storage temperature for garlic is between 35-65°F. Some good options include:
- Cellar or basement (ideal)
- Back of refrigerator
Avoid storing garlic near heat sources like appliances or in direct sunlight. Darkness is also essential—exposure to light accelerates sprouting. Consider wrapping opaque bags or towels around the container if needed.
Maintain Moderate Humidity
In addition to cool, dark conditions, maintaining the right humidity level will prevent excess drying. Garlic requires a moderate humidity level between 60-70%. If too dry, the bulbs will shrivel and desiccate. If too damp, spoilage is more likely.
Monitor the container for condensation—small water droplets are a sign humidity is too high. Wipe out any moisture and consider transferring garlic to a less humid environment. Use paper towels or baking sheets to absorb excess moisture if needed.
You can also place a small perforated bag of uncooked rice, salt or silica packets in the container to maintain the ideal humidity level. Avoid adding water directly, as this encourages mold growth.
Allow Air Circulation Around Bulbs
While an airtight container is important, you still need some air circulation within it to prevent mold growth. Don’t pack the garlic too densely—leave some space between bulbs and ensure air can move around freely.
You can place bulbs in a single layer with a bit of space between them. Or store in mesh or paper bags that allow airflow while retaining moisture. Just make sure excess moisture can escape and not become trapped.
Shake containers or massage bags periodically to redistribute bulbs and prevent clustering. Check garlic regularly and remove any bulbs with mold or spoilage to prevent spreading.
Consider Curing Bulbs Before Storage
Curing garlic after harvesting can extend its shelf life. Curing means drying bulbs immediately after harvest to firm up skins and remove moisture. Properly cured bulbs last 2-6 months longer than uncured.
Here’s how to cure garlic:
- Spread out bulbs in single layer in dry, dark place with good airflow for 2-3 weeks
- Allow skins to dry out fully
- Trim roots and stems to 1⁄4 inch
- Check bulbs, remove damaged ones
- Store in airtight container in ideal conditions
Curing works best with fresh harvested garlic. But consider curing store-bought bulbs for 1-2 weeks before long-term storage as well.
Opt for Firm, Unblemished Bulbs
When selecting which bulbs to store, choose those that are firm and unblemished. Avoid bulbs with:
- Soft, spongy or missing cloves
- Green sprouts
- Mold, dark spots or blemishes
- Loose, separating skins
- Very dry, shriveled cloves
Damaged, bruised or deteriorating bulbs won’t store as long. Inspect bulbs carefully and remove any with signs of spoilage—these will shorten the lifespan of surrounding bulbs.
Prepare Bulbs Properly Before Storing
Before placing garlic in storage, it’s important to prepare bulbs properly:
- Brush off any surface dirt but don’t wash
- Remove any roots or stems
- Separate bulbs into individual cloves or keep whole
- Dry thoroughly if rinsed
- Don’t peel or chop (causes faster spoilage)
Keeping skins intact retains moisture and prevents drying out. Don’t wash before storage as excess moisture encourages spoilage. If washing, dry bulbs very thoroughly before storage.
Watch For Signs of Spoilage
Check on stored garlic every 2-3 weeks and watch for these signs of spoilage:
- Green shoots emerging from cloves
- Soft, shriveled cloves
- Mold on cloves or roots
- Black spots or blemishes
- Condensation in container
- Shrimp odor
Remove any bulbs showing these signs immediately to prevent spread. Consume bulbs within 2-3 days if sprouts just start to emerge. Add desiccants like rice, salt or baking soda to absorb excess moisture if condensation is an issue.
Use Stored Garlic Within 5-8 Months
Properly stored, unpeeled garlic keeps well for 5-8 months in ideal cool, dark conditions. After this time, garlic is prone to mold, sprouting, shriveling and loss of flavor.
For the longest viability, use garlic:
- Within 1-2 months for chopped, peeled or crushed garlic
- Within 2 months for whole peeled cloves
- Within 5-8 months for unpeeled whole heads
Consume bulbs with green sprouts that emerge during storage right away. Don’t remove sprouts and return to storage as this area can harbor mold.
Freeze for Longer Term Storage
For storage beyond 5-8 months, consider freezing peeled cloves or chopped garlic. Frozen garlic maintains its flavor and potency for up to 1 year.
- Peel and finely chop or crush cloves
- Place in freezer bags or airtight containers
- Remove as much air as possible
- Label with date
- Freeze up to 1 year
Don’t freeze whole bulbs or unpeeled cloves—freezing damages the texture. Let frozen garlic thaw before using. Frozen garlic is best for cooking rather than raw uses.
Pickling Garlic Cloves
Pickling garlic in vinegar is another preservation method for long-term storage. Pickled garlic keeps for up to a year refrigerated.
To pickle garlic:
- Peel and rinse cloves
- Bring vinegar, salt, spices to a boil
- Pack jar with cloves and pour vinegar mixture over top
- Refrigerate 1 month before consuming
The vinegar acts as a preservative while also infusing flavor. Try different vinegar types like red wine, rice wine or apple cider.
Store Garlic Powder Properly
Dehydrating garlic into powder is a shelf-stable preservation method. Store homemade or commercial garlic powder properly for maximum freshness:
- Keep in airtight container in cool, dark place
- Avoid humidity which causes clumping
- Refrigerate for longer shelf life up to 1 year
- Freeze for longer term storage up to 2 years
Check garlic powder occasionally for any clumping or moisture. Don’t use powder that smells bitter or feels damp. Discard if any mold appears.
With the proper storage methods, unpeeled garlic can stay fresh for up to 8 months. The keys are finding the right container, temperature, humidity levels and storage location to create optimal conditions. Prepare bulbs properly by cleaning off dirt but not over-washing. Check periodically for sprouting and signs of spoilage. Use frozen, pickled and powdered garlic for even longer term storage. With a little effort and these tips, you can keep garlic on hand year-round.