The One Time You Can (and Should) Store Onions and Garlic in the Refrigerator

published Mar 28, 2022
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Freshly harvested garlic bulbs drying at the outdoors.
Credit: FotograFFF/Shutterstock

You probably already know that the best way to store onions and garlic is in a cool, dark place that’s dry and has good air flow. But did you know that rule actually only applies to cured onions and garlic, which are the kind of onions and garlic generally found at the supermarket?

Spring onions and garlic, however, are an exception to that rule — they are unique and require an entirely different kind of storage. If you’re feeling confused, don’t worry: We called up Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden in Ohio, who was happy to explain the different kinds of onions and garlic, as well as how to store them and even a few ideas for enjoying them. Read on for Farmer Lee’s expertise and advice. 

Cured Garlic and Onions

Before we get into storage, there are a few important things to know about garlic and onions. They are typically planted in the fall, before the first frost, and then harvested in summer when they’ve had a chance to fully mature. Once harvested, garlic and onions can be enjoyed right away, but they are typically cured instead. While curing sounds a bit mysterious, Farmer Lee insists, “It’s not anything bad.” It just means putting them outside or in a cold, well-ventilated environment that allows the skin to dry out and turn papery, so it can protect the bulb for long-term storage. Curing works so well, in fact, that garlic and onions can often last until the next crop, says Farmer Lee, who also points out that the same process is used for potatoes and sweet potatoes. 

Spring Garlic (aka) Fresh Garlic

While the scenario described above is typical and delivers the garlic and onions readily found at any supermarket, sometimes farmers pick fall-planted garlic or onions in the spring before they’ve had a chance to fully mature. Sometimes, they even plant garlic and onions in early spring and harvest them in late spring or early summer. 

When garlic is harvested early it’s called spring garlic or fresh garlic. Because it’s spent less time in the ground, it’s less mature and hasn’t split into individual cloves. Instead, it has one smallish bulb with a bright green stalk attached. Later in the season the stalks can turn a bit woody but if you’re lucky, they’re still green. Unlike cured garlic, the bulbs have moist rather than papery skin. 

When onions are harvested early, they have a smaller bulb with greens attached. They resemble scallions but look closer and you’ll see they have a bulb, whereas scallions do not. The bulbs will also be moist rather than covered in the papery skin found on cured onions. 

How to Store Fresh Garlic and Onions

Unlike mature garlic and onions, spring (aka fresh) ones are not cured, which changes how they are stored and how long they will last. It’s essential to let spring garlic and onions breathe to prevent rot, but you also need to protect them from dehydration, explains Farmer Lee. The solution, as outlined in Farmer Lee’s cookbook, The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables — with Recipes, is to put them in an open plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer set on the high humidity setting. In addition to having a more humid environment than the rest of the fridge, this setup also “allows for air movement and blocks the light,” says Lee.  

While spring garlic and onions can’t stand up to long-term storage like the more mature members of the onion family, they will keep for a few weeks if stored properly. Of course, Farmer Lee encourages you to enjoy them much sooner: “Find a way to work them into everything but your cereal.” And if you are growing your own, he says to pick what you need, use them, and go pull some more. 

How to Use Spring Garlic and Onions

Now that you know what spring garlic and onions are and how to make them last, what do you do with them? Well, if you ask Farmer Lee, he’ll tell you that there’s almost nothing you can’t use them for — except “Maybe not your dessert.” 

The bulb part of spring garlic can be used any way you use cured garlic, but it has a more delicate flavor, so you typically need to use more of it. That mildness also means it’s great raw. Farmer Lee likes to use the bulbs and the greens in different dishes and particularly loves the green tops, which he adds to egg dishes, salads, and especially stir-fries. 

Spring onions don’t just look like scallions; their greens can also be prepared like scallions. The bulbs can be used in place of cured onions, either cooked or raw, but as with spring garlic, the flavor is milder, so you may want to use more. Another option, mentioned by Farmer Lee in The Chef’s Garden, is to grill spring onions whole like they do in Spain.