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Conventional wisdom says that green shoots inside garlic cloves are bitter and shouldn't be used. Yet green garlic is a Spring delicacy.

Why is the embryonic shoot less edible than the more mature one? Aren't baby veg generally sweeter?

asked by zora over 6 years ago
8 answers 13581 views
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added over 6 years ago

At the risk of piling on, I'm very glad someone raised this question, as it has continued to flummox me. I can really only recall even seeing the green shoots inside of garlic cloves in the last ~5 years or so, and have continued to wonder whether some changes in growing / harvesting / storage / shipping have caused the garlic we buy to have the shoots in it. In addition, it feels to me like the first mentions in recipes to remove the green shoots from garlic have only appeared in the last few years, which is furthering my suspicion that something has changed in the growing and handling of garlic itself.

Full disclaimer - I'm a suspicous type by nature - and remain convinced that at some point in the past, the Egg McMuffin came on a buttered english muffin...

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added over 6 years ago

The green shoot you're referring to is actually a sign of *old* garlic. At harvest, garlic is called green garlic to distinguish it from the cured variety you're used to using, the kind with the papery, white skin. When you pull a young garlic out of the ground, with the stalk still attached, it's much more tender, and, depending on the variety, either milder or more pungent than its mature counterpart. After a period of curing in a warm, dry place, usually for 4 to 6 weeks, the garlic is now mature. It can be kept for months with proper storage. Eventually, it will begin its own little shoot, that which would become an entire new plant. Each clove can start a whole plant. Like onions, the garlic can do this while still in storage, not necessarily in the ground. It's this old garlic that's ready to propagate itself that's the bitter garlic.

472541ea fe64 4993 9e87 b4591136d220  zora margolis
added over 6 years ago

when I refer to green garlic as a Spring delicacy, I am talking about the young shoot that emerges from the ground before a bulb with discrete cloves has formed underground. as the garlic plants are thinned, farmers at our markets sell these garlic shoots early in the Spring. Then, as the plants begin to send up a flower stalk in late Spring/early summer, the stalks are cut off and sold as garlic scapes, to prevent the plant from going to seed. I have grown garlic in my garden, so I understand the life cycle of the garlic plant. While the embryonic shoot forming inside a clove of garlic is a sign that the garlic can be planted and that the garlic is getting "old" I am still puzzled about why it is the shoot inside the clove that I am being told to remove, but the same shoot, when it has grown enough to emerge from the soil is the mild and delicate "green garlic" of Spring.

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added over 6 years ago

You know, that makes much more sense, and I'm confused now, too. I've grown garlic a couple of times, so I've seen all the stages, too. I checked a garlic growing website, and it appears that what is at the bottom of the plant is completely new growth, while the green top would be what was the shoot from the previous fall. But yeah, what the devil happens in between? When you use green garlic, do you use the entire thing, tops and all?

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added over 6 years ago

My nephew the chef just had this conversation - I asked him if it was necessary to take the green out of garlic while he was cooking a meal for us. Casey said not necessary if you are going to saute it and not good raw for use in salad dressing for example. He also said that the green inside the garlic, at the heart, is a sign of old garlic.

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added over 6 years ago

This same question was asked a few months ago here on food52 and what I walked away with from the conversation is that people on the east coast were used to seeing the green shoot in the middle and used it without bother. It seemed at the time that the people on the west coast didn't use if they saw green (me). But, overwhelmingly the people that did use it were in agreement that it was fine to use. But, I have never known anybody to toss thier garlic in the compost or trash because of the green middle when it's the only garlic they have when they are cooking. The green does mean another growing cycle and that it is no longer dormant. They should be in the ground at the point.

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Sam is a trusted home cook.

added over 6 years ago

We used to have a cabin...and forgot to remove garlic from the hanging wire basket rack.

3 months later. We came back they had sprouted with green shoots about 3 inches. Those shoots were excellent chopped up in scrambled eggs. So, if you have some garlic with a green shoot in it..keep it around..and wait for the shoot to come out and use it like chives...the bulb has a natural feeding system to feed the green bits. Or you can plant it in a small pot with soil.
No reason to toss it..it still has something to add..even if it's not the garlic part of the bulb.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added over 6 years ago

A little green inside a garlic clove is an indication that the garlic has begun to age and is about to sprout. I live on the East Coast and generally remove the green inside just because I don't like it.

zindc said "I am talking about the young shoot that emerges from the ground before a bulb with discrete cloves has formed underground." These are called garlic scapes. If left on the plant they will become the flower of the garlic plant. They are removed so that the plant doesn't spend its energy on reproducing (making seeds) and instead focuses on storing energy (the bulb). There's a good article in the Washington Post about them.


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