I’d long been taught that the germ of garlic released enzymes that changed the flavor of garlic. In Skills class at the CIA in 1996, my chef instructor said in the finest starred restaurants you’d find that the cooks removed the germ before mincing, but that for our purposes it was unnecessary. That same chef, 5 years later, now asked his class to always remove the germ because it did affect the flavor.  Harold McGee discusses garlic and its science in his book.

I too noticed differences, not that the garlic was bitter, as some claim, only that if the garlic sat for a while before using it developed to me an off flavor. This blogger did a test finding that the flavor was different but not worse, in fact that the garlic with the germ tasted more garlicky.

The way I handle the germ is simple. If I’m prepping the garlic ahead of time, I remove the germ first. If the garlic is going straight into the heat, I don’t.

I asked friend Emilia to look into it and the research on the germ itself is inconclusive, but not on how the power of garlic works. I’d love to hear what other folks convictions are on the garlic germ.

by Emilia Juocys

Facts about garlic:

  • Garlic is a member of the allium family, whose other members include onions, leeks, shallots, green onions, ramps, scallions, etc.
  • It originated from Central Asia north of Afghanistan.
  • 12 million metric tonnes of garlic are produced globally a year.
  • China is the world’s leading producer, exporter and consumer of garlic.
  • Is key component in Asian, Mediterranean, North African, Middle Eastern, South and Central American cuisine.
What makes garlic garlicy?  It is a chemical reaction between two components cycteine and the the enzyme allinase. These two chemicals are found in different parts of the garlic plant cell (remember high school biology?).
It is the act of  chopping, mincing, or mashing that allow the two chemical to meet and mix and create allicin, which produces the pungent smell of garlic and also the compound responsible for the touted health benefits of garlic.
A study from Penn State claims that processed raw garlic loses the ability to create allicin because it sits out too long.  It has been long advised from other chefs to not purchase pre-peeled garlic because it loses the essence to garlic, in other words the peeled garlic that you se in the plastic containers loses its ability to make allicin or to be garlic.
Should one use minced or mashed garlic immediately or wait?  If you mince garlic and wait 10-15 minutes it will smell more garlicy then when you are first mincing it.  This is because you are providing time for the chemical reaction between the compounds mentioned above to take place and create the allicin.  Utilizing the garlic immediately after mincing will not provide the full garlic flavor or the health benefits associated with garlic.  Info from Science News.
Two chemists who study onions and garlic are Dr. Meriel G. Jones from the University of Liverpool and Dr. Eric Block from the University of Albany.  They both have great information about garlic and onions.
To further your knowledge about garlic, the next time you go to the store I recommend asking what type of garlic you are purchasing and where it comes from.  Some types of garlic are more pungent then others and it is important to know the origin of the food you are purchasing.  In the end, it all comes down to a matter of taste for both garlic and germ.  If you eat garlic raw, sauteed, or  roasted this essential vegetable belongs in your pantry.

Books about garlic and onions

Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith

If you liked this post on garlic germ, check out these other posts:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.