garlic shelf life

Garlic Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Garlic is an essential component of a wide array of dishes. Everyone has a pack or two of these aromatic bulbs in their kitchen. But, how long can you keep garlic?

If you don’t fear garlic breath, shelf life won’t be a concern. But, if you don’t really like garlicky dishes, it takes a while to finish a pack of garlic. Does garlic go bad? What about garlic in oil? Or maybe, is freezing garlic an option?

No worries, in this article, we take a closer look into garlic’s shelf life, its storage, and signs of garlic going bad.

We cover garlic in all forms – whole bulbs, peeled and unpeeled garlic, minced or chopped garlic, garlic in oil, etc. So, read on!

How To Store Garlic

Let’s start with garlic bulbs and unpeeled cloves. These two have similar storage guidelines. We want our garlic supply to last as long as possible. Hence, the aim is to keep it dormant and prevent sprouting.

First thing first, make sure to select garlic bulbs that are clean, white, no signs of decaying, sprouting, or molds.

Whether it’s a homegrown or from the store, you can safely keep garlic in a cool, dark, and dry environment, ideally 60 ºF or 16 °C. Place the bulbs in a ventilated container, such as a mesh bag. If you buy garlic bulbs packed in a mesh bag, you can keep it as is.

Another thing to point out: don’t refrigerate garlic bulbs or unpeeled cloves. Refrigerator temperature accelerates sprouting.

If you see moldy parts or decaying, remove them immediately before infecting other bulbs.

For peeled cloves, whether chopped, minced, or pressed, these all belong in the refrigerator. Once prepared, it is best to use garlic immediately. Keep them in a sealed airtight container and keep refrigerated.

Now, there is one thing you should never do. Don’t leave garlic-in-oil at room temperature. If it’s left out for more than 2 hours, it’s best to discard it. Such conditions encourage the growth of Clostridium botulinum that causes botulism poisoning. (*)

Even home refrigerators are not safe enough to prevent the bacteria’s growth for long term storage. Hence, keep homemade garlic-in-oil in the fridge for a maximum of 4 days. Longer than that, it should be discarded.

In general, storing low-acid food (such as fresh herbs and vegetables) in an oxygen-free environment (such as oil) is not recommended due to the risk of botulism poisoning.

Commercially-prepared herbs-in-oil has been acidified to eliminate the risk.

Alternatively, store garlic in wine or vinegar for more extended storage. Keep the mixture in a sealed airtight container in the refrigerator. Don’t leave it at room temperature to prevent mold growth. Don’t forget to label it with a “best by” date or “discard by” date.

How To Tell If Garlic Is Bad?

Luckily, it’s not too difficult to determine if garlic has gone bad or spoiled. You can always rely on your senses. It’s pretty much similar to checking other fresh produce, such as onion, broccoli, or sweet potatoes.

When kept too long, the bulbs start shriveling or sprouting. At this point, you can cut the cloves in half, take out the green sprout, and use the rest. But it’s up to you to decide.

Fresh garlic is firm and pungent. If garlic cloves turn yellow, it’s also better to discard it. This aromatic vegetable has passed its prime.

Some common traits of spoilage include the appearance of blue or green molds, too soft or mushy, rotting or decaying cloves. If one of these symptoms are spotted, it’s time to trash your garlic.

When it comes to garlic in oil, don’t use it if it’s older than four days. Meanwhile, garlic in wine or vinegar is no longer suitable to use if it grows molds or yeast on the surface.

How Long Does Garlic Last?

A whole head of garlic bulb lasts longer than individual cloves. Take the cloves as many as you need, and leave the rest intact.

Garlic bulbs can last for around 3 to 5 months under ideal storage conditions. (*)

Meanwhile, unpeeled cloves last for around 3 to 4 weeks.

Once you peel the papery skin off, the shelf life is discounted to only a week to 10 days top. Any chopped, minced, or pressed garlic should be used within the same day or kept for only one day.

When it comes to homemade garlic in oil, it should only be used within 2 to 4 days. Longer than that, you’re risking yourself to botulism poisoning.

Also, if you forgot to leave this oil infusion for more than 2 hours at room temperature, it’s better to discard it.

If you prefer to submerge garlic in wine or vinegar, this mixture lasts much longer than garlic in oil. The addition of wine or vinegar acidifies the environment and inhibits bacterial growth. With proper refrigeration, it can last up to 4 months.

Garlic TypesPantryRefrigerator
Garlic (whole, unbroken bulb)3 to 5 months
Garlic (unpeeled clove)3 to 4 weeks
Garlic (peeled clove)7 to 10 days
Garlic (chopped, minced, pressed)1 day
Garlic in wine or vinegar (homemade)4 months
Garlic in oil (homemade)2 to 4 days

The periods above are general estimates for the best quality of garlic, assuming your garlic is stored under ideal conditions. It may last longer, as long as no spoilage signs are spotted.


Can you freeze garlic?

Freshly minced garlic gives the best flavor to your dishes. But, every now and then, we can’t always catch up with our food storage.

If you happen to have a surplus of garlic supply, freezing is a great option to extend its shelf life. Frozen garlic keeps well for 6 to 12 months.

Although the pungency may slightly decrease, having frozen garlic is convenient and a time-saver. You can freeze garlic in several different ways.

1. Freeze whole bulbs or cloves (peeled or unpeeled) by putting them into a freezer bag. Squeeze as much air as possible and let it freeze.

2. Chop garlic cloves and put them into a freezer bag or a freezer-safe container.

3. If you prefer ready-to-use garlic in oil, you can also mince or puree the peeled cloves and mix with oil (with 2:1 parts of oil to garlic). Place this mixture in a freezer-safe container and freeze it immediately. Don’t let it stand at room temperature to prevent botulinum contamination.

4. For minced garlic, freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, place the garlic cubes in a freezer bag.
Once thawed, garlic should be used immediately.

You can safely defrost garlic in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can also let frozen garlic cloves stand at room temperature for a few minutes, and they’re ready to use.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to defrost frozen garlic. You can throw it right into the pan when preparing soup, stew, etc. But, be careful with sautéing or frying frozen garlic as its water content triggers the oil to splatter.

Does garlic go bad in the fridge?

Refrigerator temperature is not suitable for long-term storage since it provides favorable conditions for early sprouting.

Is it safe to eat garlic that turns green/ blue?

Garlic contains anthocyanins that turn garlic blueish in an acidic environment, such as in pickling solution or vinegar. The garlic remains safe to eat. Such a natural occurrence is more prevalent with immature garlic.

Final Thoughts

Garlic is a must-have vegetable in every kitchen. Whether it’s a whole bulb, unpeeled cloves, minced garlic, etc.– these all go bad.

Garlic bulbs have the longest shelf life. Once cloves are cracked off from the bulb, the shelf life drops significantly. It’s best to peel and chop it before use.

Keep garlic bulbs and unpeeled cloves at a cool, dry, dark place. Avoid refrigerating fresh garlic if you don’t want it to start sprouting. Instead, consider freezing. Refrigeration is only necessary for peeled garlic and garlic mixed with oil or wine.

After a while, garlic bulbs start to shrivel and sprout. You can still use them by cutting off the green sprout. But, mushy and moldy garlic should be discarded.

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*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos

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