The taste of fresh garlic flavors foods in a way that jarred garlic can't begin to match. Unpeeled garlic stores in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated location for three to five months, per the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), but peeled garlic cloves will spoil faster.
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However, olive oil doesn't make a good storage liquid for peeled garlic. When left at room temperature or in the refrigerator for too long, garlic in olive oil provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria that cause botulism.
Fortunately, you have alternatives for safe garlic storage. Here's the best way to store peeled garlic cloves without olive oil.
Instead of storing peeled garlic cloves in olive oil — which can lead to botulism contamination — keep them either in vinegar at room temperature or in wine or wine vinegar in the refrigerator.
Risks of Storing Garlic in Olive Oil
Clostridium botulinum spores infect many foods, especially low-acid vegetables like garlic, per UC Davis. But because the bacteria need oxygen to reproduce, commercially packaged and sealed garlic in olive oil generally doesn't cause any problems.
But when you submerge peeled garlic cloves in oil, however, this allows the spores to reproduce, producing a toxin that doesn't change the look, smell or taste of the food. Refrigeration slows the growth of spores but won't stop it altogether. The longer you store the peeled cloves in the refrigerator, the higher the chance that the spores will grow.
Best Liquid for Storing Peeled Garlic
Store peeled garlic cloves in vinegar, wine or wine vinegar. You can safely store peeled garlic cloves in vinegar at room temperature; garlic in wine or a wine-vinegar mix requires refrigeration. Discard if you notice any mold or yeast growth on the garlic, according to Washington State University Extension.
Refrigerating Peeled Cloves
You can safely store peeled garlic cloves by refrigerating in a clear, plastic container at temperatures of between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to two to three weeks, per UC Davis. Storage above these temperatures can cause the cloves to discolor or to develop roots or sprouts.
Commercial Garlic in Oil
You might wonder how commercial manufacturers produce garlic cloves in oil without increasing the risk of botulism. The answer lies in the preservatives they add to acidify their products such as citric or phosphorus acid, per UC Davis.
It's difficult if not impossible to acidify garlic at home. Follow manufacturers direction for safe storage of these products. Don't purchase or use homemade garlic in olive oil, even if sold in specialty stores.