What Does It Mean When Garlic Sprouts?

What are garlic sprouts? Are they safe to eat? Should they be removed? Let’s take a closer look. 

What are garlic sprouts? Let's take a closer look.

When I attended culinary school, my chef instructors were very firm on the rules of the kitchen; there were hardly any grey areas.

A perfect example of this was how to deal with the little green garlic sprouts (also known as garlic germs) that sometimes appear inside cloves. We were told to always remove these because their bitterness would negatively impact the flavor of the dish. I never questioned this; it was simply a fact.

A photo of garlic sprouts, a head of garlic, and a chef's knife.

What is a garlic sprout?

Over time, garlic develops a stronger, sharper flavor and a green germ forms in the center of each clove. Eventually these sprouts make their way through the head of the bulb. This doesn’t mean the garlic has gone bad; it’s fine to use until it becomes mushy and brown.

Do garlic sprouts actually impact the flavor of a dish?

David Lebowitz actually put this to the flavor test. He did side-by-side comparisons, and found that the sprouts added an unpleasant bitterness when used raw in homemade mayonnaise. However, he couldn’t detect a noticeable difference when he used both sprouted and un-sprouted garlic in cooked pasta.

How should sprouts be removed from the clove?

It’s easy to remove garlic sprouts. Cut off the tips of the clove using a chef’s knife or paring knife, and then peel away the thin layer of skin. Slice the clove in half lengthwise, and then remove the germ using a paring knife or your fingers.

Can you prevent or delay garlic sprouts from forming?

You can’t prevent them, but you can slow down the process a bit. Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place. The moisture of the refrigerator will speed up the process.

Should garlic sprouts be discarded?

I usually discard them. However, they can be used to grow garlic plants if you’re feeling so inclined. If you see a sprout poking through the clove, you can plant it, sprout-side up, in a garden or container.

Should garlic sprouts be removed from the cloves?

Ultimately, this is a personal preference. I remove them if they’ll be used raw (for example, in my hummus recipes), but I don’t bother when they’re going into cooked dishes.

Sorry, chef instructors!

Additional Resources

Garlic Germ – Michael Ruhlman
Selecting Garlic – How Stuff
WorksShould You Remove the Green Germ from Garlic? – David Lebowitz

Why does garlic sprout? Find out why!

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