When you see those green sprouts popping out of a head of garlic, do you lop them off and keep cooking? Do you toss the whole head? Or do you chop up the green parts along with the normal cloves, business as usual? Read on to find out what to do with sprouted garlic, how to choose the freshest bulbs and keep them fresh, and what exactly those green shoots are.

Garlic is an essential staple for many types of cuisine, and as such, it is often something we buy in bulk so that we never run out. But that means that, every now and again, we reach for a bulb to discover a green shoot emerging, or slice into a clove to discover a bright green core. Does that mean the garlic is bad? And if not, is there anything special we need to do? Here's what you need to know.

How to choose good garlic

First and foremost, if you want your garlic to last as long as possible, your best shot is choosing great garlic to begin with! When shopping for garlic, look for heads that are very firm, with tight, smooth papery skin on the exterior. The heads should feel a little heavy for their size, and none of the cloves on the exterior should feel soft or hollow. 

How long does garlic last?

With proper storage, garlic can last a long time! Whole bulbs, stored in a cool, dark, dry place with good ventilation, can last up to six months. Do not store garlic in the fridge, which is too humid. And do not put it into airtight containers. If you cannot store the bulbs in an open basket or ventilated storage container, a plain brown paper bag is your best bet. 

sprouted garlic on a green background
Credit: Getty Images / Anna Derzhina

What is sprouted garlic?

Sprouted garlic is simply garlic that has begun to generate new garlic. It has likely been exposed to too much heat or light or moisture and thinks that it is time to create a new garlic plant. Sometimes you will see the green shoots poking out of the bulb, sometimes you won't know that your garlic is sprouted until you slice into the cloves and see that the center has a bright green core. You can choose to either remove this green shoot or leave it in your recipe; it is entirely up to you. 

Is it safe to eat sprouted garlic?

Sprouted garlic is absolutely safe to eat. But moldy garlic is not. Sprouted garlic will have bright green or bright yellow shoots that are in the center of the cloves, and sometimes will poke out of the top of the cloves. Any discoloration that is bluish-green (instead of yellow-green), is fuzzy or dusty-looking and is on any exterior part of the cloves (instead of in the center) indicates mold, and that bulb should be discarded.

Does sprouted garlic taste different?

Sprouted garlic is not as young or fresh as unsprouted, so the flavor is impacted. Since it is a bit older, it will likely have lost some of its brighter notes, and the intensity of the "bite" can increase. The sprouts themselves are bitter, so it is often recommended that if you see a sprout, you remove it before continuing with your recipe. If your recipe only calls for one or two cloves of garlic, especially in a large batch of soup or stew, there is really no need, as the bitterness of the small sprouts will get lost in the flavors of the rest of your dish. But if you are making a dish where garlic is the star (looking at you, chicken with 25 cloves of garlic) or a recipe where the garlic is used raw, like a pesto, it's worth it to take the time to remove the bitter sprouts.

Bottom line

Ultimately, worry about sprouting garlic should not keep you from stocking up if you find your local grocer with a fresh pile that looks good, or if you have the good fortune to have a purveyor at your local farmers' market. It is safe to eat sprouted garlic, although you may want to remove those green shoots when preparing certain recipes like pesto, when garlic is the star and consumed raw—just for flavor's sake. And if you are a gardener and find yourself with some sprouts? You can plant those sprouted cloves for a little garlic harvest of your own!