Two Super Important Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Garlic, According to Garlic Growers

updated Jan 27, 2021
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Whole garlic cloves, individual peeled cloves, and a small pile of pressed garlic on a cutting board
Credit: Sarah Crowley

There are plenty of unspoken rules for finding the best produce in the produce department. Pre-pandemic, of course, it was once acceptable to sniff cantaloupes for ripeness, press avocados for firmness, or slightly peel open an ear of corn to make sure you’re getting the good stuff. But are there any garlic tricks to sourcing the best of the best?

In honor of Kitchn’s first ever “Garlic Week,” we asked garlic experts for their tips on what to look for when shopping for bulbs in the grocery store. Two pieces of advice stood out and now they’re on our official garlic shopping checklist.

1. Buy local garlic whenever possible.

Both experts we talked to recommended sourcing American-grown (and preferably locally grown) garlic whenever possible for the freshest bulbs. “Imported garlic is sometimes sprayed with chemicals to keep it from sprouting en route or in storage, and the store doesn’t have to tell you that. Buying locally will avoid this and buying Certified Organic garlic should, too,” says Jerry Ford, director, Minnesota Premium Garlic Project.

“If no indications of origin are present, always look for roots at the bottom of the bulb. American garlic growers do not remove the roots,” Robert Dunkel, New York State garlic grower and Press Editor at Garlic Seed Foundation.

2. Squeeze (and sniff!) bulbs before you buy.

When asked how to identify good garlic, both experts again had the same tip: Squeeze bulbs to check for hardness and sniff them to identify any odors. While we know that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes this a little complicated to do, try this rule of thumb: If you can smell the garlic through your mask, it’s probably not worth buying.

“With whole bulbs, well-cured garlic should have very little, if any, smell to it — at least not until you peel it. If you sniff a whole bulb and there is a strong smell, don’t buy it,” says Ford.

Garlic does not give off a smell when intact. The scent is only released when cut or bitten. That’s why it’s important to squeeze the bulb to feel for hardness. Any giving or softness usually reflects some sort of disease,” says Dunkel.

Do you have any tips or tricks that you employ when buying garlic? Share them in the comments below.