Fermented garlic

Once you have tasted aged fermented garlic, you’ll understand why people patiently wait at least 2 months before cracking open a jar. It’s well worth it.

Fermenting garlic may seem contradictory: preserving an antimicrobial-rich food using methods dependent on microbes. Wouldn’t antimicrobial compounds in garlic disturb the balance of lactic acid bacteria responsible for fermentation?

Well, apparently not because people have been fermenting garlic for ages and had success. Why does it work, how does it work, and how can we make it work even better?

Let’s take a look.

Health benefits of garlic 

As one of the most popular go-to natural flu remedies, the demand for garlic is rising. But besides being a traditional remedy for cold and flus, it has many other activities as well (1).

Benefits of raw garlic

  • antioxidant – reduces oxidative stress, which is the major cause of degeneration, aging, and disease
  • anti-inflammatory – reduces inflammatory response, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • antimicrobial – broad spectrum of antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • anti-diabetic –reduces oxidative stress damage to the pancreas and reduces sugars attached to hemoglobin (hemoglobin A1C) 
  • immune modifying – strengthen and regulate the immune system to protect the body
  • cardiovascular protection – reduces common risk factors in cardiovascular disease, such as blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and blood fats (lipids). Additionally garlic protects the hears 
  • anti-platelet – garlic has the same blood thinning effect as baby aspirin, preventing platelets from sticking together in clumps.
  • antihypertensive – lowers blood pressure to keep blood vessels and the heart healthy 
  • anticarcinogen – protects against a variety of cancer types through several actions, including detoxification
  • detoxification –S-allyl cysteine increases the activity of detoxification enzymes that are most concentrated in the liver.

The major bioactive components of garlic that are behind its numerous health benefits are sulfur-containing compounds (organosulfer compounds): diallyl sulfide (DAS), diallyl disulfide (DADS), diallyl trisulfide (DATS), allicin, S-allyl-cysteine, and alliin.

Additionally, it contains 20 phytochemicals, which is more than most vegetables (6)

Raw garlic vs. fermented garlic

Raw garlic is great, but fermented garlic is even better.

Fermentation improves flavour and mellows pungent tastes that makes raw garlic difficulty to eat. In addition, fermentation enhances antioxidant effects, increases bioactive compounds, and creates new compounds specific to microorganisms (2).

More than that, fermenting garlic increases sulfur-containing compounds, namely S-allyl cysteine and S-methyl cysteine, which induce detoxification enzymes and counteract oxidative stress responsible for tissue damage, especially in the liver (3).

With regards to alliin levels, one study found concentration did not change during fermentation (4) while another study found they decreased (5). While allicin (derived from alliin) is the compound from which many health benefits of garlic are had, it’s important to recognize that other bioactive compounds contribute to these benefits and are actually enhanced by fermentation. 

How to peel garlic (and keep it raw and intact)

The hardest part of fermenting garlic is peeling garlic. At two cloves of garlic per day, one person could eat 14 cloves of fermented garlic per week and 56 per month. 

As you can imagine, continuing this habit over a year can amount to a ton of garlic, especially if more than one person are eating garlic. Peeling enough to last a year is tedious and time consuming. But there are fast and easy ways that don’t involve peeling each clove, one at a time.

Quick methods to peel garlic

One quick way to remove garlic peels is by pressing a clove with the flat side of a knife. Cutting the base of a garlic clove also ensures easy removal of the peel. Even easier is roasting the garlic at 200°F until the skins loosen. And for a completely effortless option: purchase pre-peeled garlic in the refrigeration section at grocery stores. 

All these methods make removing the peel fast and easy, yet cutting or crushing garlic activates an unstable and short-lived sulfur compound in garlic, allium – the compound that has health experts taking and consumers taking garlic supplements.

Allium forms when alliin, the precursor to allium, interacts with alliinase, an enzyme. Alliin and alliinase are stored in separate compartments in plant cells until the clove is cut, crushed, or chewed. 

Due to the instability of allium, the highest levels are had within 10-30 minutes after breaching the cell walls. For maximum health benefits then, all efforts to prevent the reaction between alliin and alliinase should be taken until shortly before consuming garlic

Additionally, allium has strong antimicrobial effects that interrupts the growth of lactic acid bacteria needed for fermentation. Cutting or crushing the clove before fermentation would limit the activity of these bacteria may impact fermentation. 

That leaves only a couple methods for peeling garlic in a way that maximizes health benefits of fermented garlic.

Better methods to peel garlic

Option 1: Soaking method. Place cloves in non-chlorinated, lukewarm water for an hour after which the peels are easy to remove – no heat or knife needed.

Option 2: Two-bowl method. Place cloves within a bowl and cover with an inverted bowl of the same size, so that it forms a dome, rims of the bowls together. Hold the rims tightly and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Thin skins should remove really easily. Put remaining cloves that still have skins back into the bowl and shake for another 20-seconds. 

A pot with a lid or a mason jar with a lid would also work. The bowls or a pot allow for a larger number of cloves per 20-second shake.         

NOTE: I have also tried blanching garlic cloves for 30 seconds in water that is just about boiling, though it doesn’t give the best fermentation results. Either the soaking method or the two-bowl method had more active fermentation.

How to make fermented garlic

Though this ferment takes a little longer than other brined ferments due to peeling the garlic, it still follows the same easy steps.

Make a brine

Make 500 mL of 2% brine; let cool. (You may not use all the brine.)

Prepare the cloves

Carefully, separate the garlic cloves from the stem. It’s best to strip excess papery layers that encase the head before wedging your fingers between the stem and cloves to pry apart. Fill the jar to the brim with the cloves to estimate garlic. Once peeled, this amount of cloves should roughly fill the Airlock Fermenter to the shoulder, leaving enough space for brine.

The number of garlic bulbs needed to fill your jar depends on the size of cloves each variety produces. Larger cloves will leave large spaces between cloves in a jar, while small cloves pack tighter and require more garlic to fill a jar. Note the large difference in clove sizes below.

For example, I used 8 garlic bulbs that had large cloves (420 grams of peeled garlic) to fill a 3/4 L Airlock Fermenter. Another time, I used 12 garlic bulbs (~500 grams of peeled garlic) that had small cloves to fill the same jar.

Peel the garlic cloves. It’s easiest to start at the root end, using your finger nails or a knife. Do not cut the garlic end while doing this. Leave the root end intact to preserve alliin.

Some varieties of garlic, such as German Red, peel easily starting at the root end. Others are difficult and may benefit from soaking for 1 hour or using the jar method explained above.

Discard any cloves with brown or black spoilage spots like the ones below. Use these in cooking or eat raw with the spoiled spot removed.

Fill the jar

Fill a clean Airlock Fermenter to the shoulder (widest part of jar before it narrows) with peeled garlic cloves; lay a flat glass weight overtop to submerged the cloves. Pour brine to the neck of the jar. 

Garlic cloves in an airlock jar for fermented garlic

Let it ferment

Latch the lid; fill the large airlock, and ferment at 18-22ºC for 1 month away from direct sunlight. Afterward, transfer to the fridge for 1-2 more months to finish curing. Swap the mini airlock for the large airlock if vertical space is limited, i.e. a fridge vs. a root cellar.

Garlic is best aged for 6 months before using, so be sure to check on the water level in the airlock or add glycerin to reduce evapouration. When left in an Airlock Fermenter with the airlock inserted, fermented garlic will keep for years in cold storage. Insert the plug once the jar is opened.

Ways to use fermented garlic

Popping cloves of fermented garlic into your mouth is the easiest way to consume garlic. After all, fermentation tampers the heat in garlic, so it won’t burn your stomach or rip your lips off.

There are several other more interesting ways to use garlic that incorporate more flavour. Use fermented garlic in any recipe that calls for raw garlic cloves. 

Remember: Fermented garlic is milder than non-fermented garlic, so you’ll likely use more fermented garlic than you would non-fermented.

That said, garlic cloves range in size and heat, depending on the variety of garlic. For example, Georgian Fire is much hotter than Always start with less, taste, then adjust to suit your preference.

Fully fermented garlic cloves ready to use

Foods served cold

  • Garlic butter: Mix ½ cup butter with 3 fermented garlic cloves, minced, and some finely sliced fresh herbs (optional). Spread on warm corn on the cob, baked sweet potatoes, grilled steak, or even melt on popcorn!
  • Pesto: Any type of pesto – traditional with pine nuts, pumpkin pesto, or whatever type you dream up – can use some fermented garlic.
  • Garlic salad dressing: A simple, homemade salad dressing made with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, fresh herbs, and minced fermented garlic make a healthy alternative to store-bought dressings. 
  • Fresh salsa: Fermented salsas enhances antioxidant power from all ingredients in salsa through fermentation. If you want a great salsa immediately, add fermented garlic to non-fermented salsa for a quick condiment. 
  • Bruschetta: Mix freshly sliced basil, parmesan cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and minced fermented garlic and spread on toasted baguette slices as an appetizer.
  • Hummus: Though there are many variations of hummus, most have garlic, including the traditional version with cumin, lemon juice, and tahini. Use fermented garlic in its place.
  • Guacamole: Mix minced garlic cloves with onions, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers (optional). This is also a wonderful dip to use your fermented onions and jalapeno peppers in addition to fermented garlic.   
  • Garlic aioli: Homemade mayo is delicious (and a source of guilt-free, healthy fats), but adding garlic brine and crushed fermented garlic will turn your mayo into an even more delicious garlic version of mayo, garlic aioli. 
  • Stuffed olives: Buy some pitted olives or pit them yourself; stuff a clove through the interior; poke a toothpick into the olive; and, voila! you have fancy appetizer.

Foods served warm

  • Soup: Most soups recommend sautéing garlic for a minute or so with onions before adding the wet ingredients. To preserve the health compounds in garlic and the microbes that fermentation brings, add minced garlic to slightly cooled soup, shortly before you are ready to eat it.                       
  • Mashed potatoes: Add minced fermented garlic to mashed potatoes instead of garlic powder or regular raw garlic.

Caution towards garlic-infused olive oil

One way NOT to use fermented garlic is in garlic-infused olive oil, regardless of what your read on the internet. According to a publication by the University of Maine, fresh ingredients used in commercial flavoured and infused oils are acidified to eliminate the risk of Clostridium botulinum. Fermentation acidifies garlic below the minimum pH that supports life and growth of C. botulinum, 4.6, yet once removed from the ferment, and added to oil, it no longer holds that acidity. 

Troubleshooting

Most batches of garlic will turn out exceptional, but there are a few things you must be aware of: garlic turning green or blue, fermented garlic smell permeating your fridge, and scaring people away with your garlic breath.

Garlic turns blue

Fermented garlic cloves may turn bluish-green. The colour change isn’t a sign of spoilage; these cloves are still safe and taste just like beige fermented garlic – delicious! 

The colour change happens due to the age of garlic, changes in temperatures, or acidic pH. It can happen in pickled (canned) garlic, fermented garlic, or cooking with garlic. 

In fermented garlic, sulfur-containing compounds and enzymes react in garlic cloves, then interact with acids in brine from the ferment. 

What’s more, sometimes fermented garlic during the room temperature phase holds its colour, yet upon transferring to cold storage, the blue-green colour may appear. 

As noted by Cooks Illustrated, using fresh, young garlic when making fermented garlic will prevent the colour change. Starting early September until late fall, seek out fresh garlic to ferment. That said, I’ve fermented local garlic that was 7 months old and observed no colour change.

Peeling the cloves as suggested above – without cutting or crushing the cloves – also prevents colour change throughout cold-temperature storage. This has been my experience in the last four batches of fermented garlic. 

Garlic smell in my fridge

Storing your ferment in a fridge during the cold temperature phase with the airlock will certainly leak garlic odours into your fridge. The only remedy may be a box of baking soda to absorb the odour.

The alternative is using a root cellar once outdoor temperatures drop sufficiently. I do most of my long-term storage fermentation in early October (e.g. kraut, root vegetables, and kvass) to align with the cooler storage temperatures needed for fermentation.

Garlic breath

The one drawback to eating this wonderful vegetable is the strong odour it leave in the mouth. We call it garlic breath.

Many home remedies are suggested for counteracting this odour, such as chewing on coffee beans, cloves, cardamom seeds, and even eating a grated potato with a few spoonfuls of honey. But the most widely cited remedy is chewing parsley. Let me know what works best for you in the comments.

Lacto-Fermented Garlic Recipe

Once you tasted aged, fermented garlic, you’ll understand why people patiently wait 2+ months for it to cure. It is also worth delicately removing each garlic sheath without cutting off the root or damaging the flesh to retain health benefits. Have a jar of these going at all times and feel free to use a larger Airlock Fermenter for all you garlic lovers out there.
Prep Time30 d
Cold-storage phase30 d
Total Time60 d
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Fermented Food
Keyword: immune booster

Equipment

  • 3/4 L Airlock Fermenter

Ingredients

  • 500 mL non-chlorinated, filtered or distilled water
  • 10 grams non-iodized sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds optional
  • 8-12 bulbs domestic garlic not from China

Instructions

  • Make 500 mL of 2% brine; let cool. (There may be leftovers.)
  • Carefully, separate the garlic cloves from the stem. It's best to strip excess papery layers that encase the head before wedging your fingers between the stem and cloves to pry apart. Fill the jar to the brim with cloves to estimate garlic. Once peeled, this amount of cloves should roughly fill the Airlock Fermenter to the shoulder, leaving enough space for brine to cover the cloves.
  • Peel the garlic cloves. Start at the root end, using your finger nails or a knife. Do not cut the garlic end while doing this. Leave the clove intact to preserve alliin. Discard any cloves with brown or black spoilage spots like the ones below.
  • Fill the Airlock Fermenter to the shoulder (widest part of jar before it narrows) with peeled garlic cloves; lay a flat glass weight overtop to submerged the cloves. Pour brine to the neck of the jar. 
  • Latch the lid; fill the large airlock, and ferment at 18-22ºC for 1 month away from direct sunlight. Afterward, transfer to the fridge for 1-2 more months to finish curing. Swap the mini airlock for the large airlock if vertical space is an issue, i.e. a fridge.
  • When left in an Airlock Fermenter with the airlock inserted, fermented garlic will keep for years in cold storage. Insert the plug once the jar is opened.

Notes

Garlic cloves may turn bluish-green. It isn’t a sign of spoilage; these cloves are still safe and delicious to eat. The colour change happens when compounds in some varieties of garlic cloves react with acids in the brine created through fermentation. This more commonly happens when garlic is cut, which is one reason why being careful when peeling is important. 

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