With most produce, it's best to use it or lose it — but that's not the case for garlic. When your garlic sprouts, don't toss it. It may have a more bitter flavor, but it's higher in antioxidant phytochemicals that can improve your health.
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Sprouted garlic is perfectly fine to eat. It may even offer added health benefits.
What Are Garlic Sprouts?
It seems annoying when you go to get a few cloves of garlic and find bright green shoots protruding from the cloves. Sometimes you don't even see the sprout until you peel or cut into the garlic. Those shoots are essentially little baby garlics, and they're perfectly edible. In fact, young garlic shoots are even cultivated as a delicacy.
The main reason people choose to chuck them is because they have a less pungent, sometimes bitter flavor, as opposed to the clove's mildly sweet taste. According to Oldways, it may also have a more fibrous texture.
If you work in a five-star restaurant, by all means cut the sprouted garlic off. If your food must be perfect, throw out that green sprout. But for home cooking, it probably doesn't make a big difference in flavor or presentation. Ultimately, it's a personal preference — but rest assured, there is little health risk from eating cooked garlic that has sprouted.
That's not the case with all sprouted foods, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the warm and humid conditions required to sprout seeds, such as alfalfa, and beans can also foster the growth of germs, such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Eating raw, fully sprouted seeds and beans can increase the risk of food poisoning.
Your overgrown garlic doesn't pose as much of a problem. Just to be on the safe side, though, don't chow down on raw garlic shoots. But then why would you?
Potential Benefits of Garlic Shoots
If you do decide to throw the sprouts and all into the pot, you may reap additional health benefits. Researchers of a study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry in February 2014 tested the hypothesis that sprouting raw garlic would promote production of powerful phytochemicals that can improve health.
The researchers compared the antioxidant activity of unsprouted raw garlic and raw garlic sprouts for five days and found that the sprouted garlic exhibited significantly greater activity in lab testing. The study findings concluded that sprouting garlic is a useful way to increase garlic's antioxidant potential.
It's the process of germination that's most likely responsible for these changes. As seedlings grow into plants, they produce compounds that protect the young plant from pathogens, explains the American Chemical Society. It's these compounds that exhibit increased antioxidant activity.
Unlike the garlic you left on the counter too long, sprouting food isn't something that always occurs just by accident. According to a review of research published in the journal Nutrients in February 2019, eastern cultures have been sprouting seeds for a long time, and it's an important part of their culinary history. The consumption of sprouted foods in the west has become more popular in recent years due to consumers' increased interest in healthy and exotic foods.
Indeed, sprouted foods in general may be more nutritious than their unsprouted counterparts. According to Harvard Health Publishing, in sprouted grains and seeds, for example, the process of germination breaks down some of the starches, which increases the concentration of vitamins and minerals. Breaking down the starches may also increase digestibility for people who have problems digesting grains.
Read more: OK, But What Are Antioxidants Really?
- Oldways: "Culinary Conundrum Series: The Case of the Green Garlic Sprout"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning"
- Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry: "Garlic Sprouting Is Associated With Increased Antioxidant Activity and Concomitant Changes in the Metabolite Profile"
- American Chemical Society: "Don’t Throw out Old, Sprouting Garlic — It Has Heart-Healthy Antioxidants"
- Nutrients: "Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Trending Now: Sprouted Grains"