Should You Remove the Green Germ from Garlic?

Garlic

Garlic has a season, and depending on where you live, that season is usually spring through mid-summer. In France, we get ail nouveau, which are heads of garlic that are very plump and slightly soft, whose moist skin is tinged with a bit of pink. As it ages, the garlic becomes more rosy in color, and there is even a special “rose” garlic in France called ail rose de Lautrec, whose status is certified by the French government. As the months progress, garlic season ends and the remaining heads go into storage.

Garlic

In France, garlic that has been kept is often referred to as ail sec, or dried garlic. And in many cases, during storage, those cloves of garlic will develop a green germ inside that is said to be bitter and should be removed. I know, because I’ve said that myself. But I’ve never really put it to the test. So when a friend, who worked closely with Marcella Hazan (an expert on Italian cuisine) told me that Marcella never removed the green germ (her reasoning being that since it was new garlic in the making, it was tender and not bitter), I figured it would be interesting to see – and taste – if removing it really did make a difference.

Garlic

First up: I made a batch of mayonnaise using cold-pressed safflower oil rather than olive oil, so the taste of the garlic would be more prominent. (Hence the lighter color than traditional aïoli.) I divided the mayonnaise and for each batch of mayonnaise (85 grams each) I added 10 grams of finely chopped garlic, one with the green germ included, the other, without the green germ. Then I waited two hours for them to meld and take on the flavor of the garlic.

As a life-long green-germ plucker, I was surprised at the difference that it made. The garlic mayonnaise made without the green sprouts was lively and garlicky. The one with the green germ was just as garlicky, but had a bite and then a hot “burn” at the end when I swallowed it, which I found disagreeable. If I didn’t know that it had the green germ in it, I just might have assumed that was the garlic. But the difference was definitely there.

Garlic Mayonnaise

I also wanted to try it cooked. I thought about making chicken with forty cloves of garlic and comparing them side-by-side. But I didn’t know if I had the patience to peel eighty cloves of garlic, so I made two small ramekins of pasta with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 gram thinly sliced garlic (how I prefer it for frying since it doesn’t burn as quickly as minced garlic – especially if you start it in oil that isn’t hot), and a touch of salt.

Garlic

With the green dot marking which was which, I tasted them blind and although it’s hard to tell with pin-point accuracy, due to the garlic taking on a bit of color as I fried it (which masks some of the taste), the two pastas tasted almost the same; the browned garlic didn’t taste different in either version.

Garlic

Garlic will be different depending on season, variety, and a host of other factors. But when using garlic raw, you should definitely remove the green germ. For cooking, even though it didn’t make as much of a difference in my little taste test, I still advise plucking out the green sprout from the center, which I will continue to do, mostly because it brings me the same joy as cleaning the lint filter on my dryer. And even if you’re peeling eighty cloves, you’ll probably want to get in on the fun and pluck them out, too.

139 comments

  • I was going to chime in on what Pépin said, but since it has been said, my $.02 is – when you are finished handling the garlic, rub your hands on stainless steel and water. Your hands will not smell of garlic. For some reason the stainless steel neutralizes the odor.

    M~

  • I am so glad that you addressed this. I always wonder about it, but never take the time to do a side by side!

  • Thanks for posting this experiment. Re green garlic, its season is beginning here in Israel too. Since the entire thick long succulent green stalks come with the green garlic here, I use them rather than throw them away. I cut them into chunks of several cm long, and place them in a roasting pan for a chicken to sit upon while it roasts in the oven with onion, herb sprigs like thyme & rosemary. I stuff the chicken with more chunks of the thick garlic stalks, along with lemon & onion &herbs. This adds nice flavor. I discard the chunks of garlic stalks afterwards.

  • Ever since I lived in Italy I’ve ALWAYS removed the green part of garlic…because it is “bitter” but always wondered if it really made a difference. Thanks for doing the work for me ;-)

  • I love this and shared it with our garlic-loving Facebook fans. David, next time you’re in the U.S., try some heirloom garlic from a small grower. The different flavor profiles will knock your socks off.

  • I’ve never even seen that!

  • Hi David,
    Todd Coleman at Saveur mag has a way of peeling huge numbers of cloves in minutes that can work well depending on your garlic. Search Saveur How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds
    When I tried it recently I was blown away – even tho only around half my cloves peeled easily, it was still extraordinary! Cheers, Judy in Melbourne

  • I always remove the inner shoot, even if it;s not gone green yet.
    The main reason is that it can upset your stomach , especially when raw.

  • Thanks for conducting this experiment! I always took off the green germ and now I know I’ll always continue to do so.

  • Thank you so much David. I’ve always wondered about that. You really keep us on your toes. Suzanne

  • For goodness sake, you are really serious about learning the French language
    but also about being an excellent French chef. I still use the garlic seasoning ffrom the
    bulk foods dept at Central Market. Any hope for me?

  • Makes sense. Once that green guy shoots up, he’s using all the sugar in the garlic for his own benefit.

  • Does the same apply to onions as well?

  • I never really took the time to remove these germs and many times wondered how come garlic taste can be so different from one case to another… Thank you for the help!

  • I can’t always get two types of garlic to make a comparison, I’m questioning whether the germ affects the entire clove’s taste? If you made the same comparison test with aioli using a clove with the germ removed and one without germ to begin with would the results be different?

    • I used garlic from the same head; one had the green germ removed and other example was made with the green germ still intact.

  • I’ve always taken out the green germ from the garlic, don’t recall how or why I knew to do this. David, I get the same satisfaction from cleaning the lint filter on my dryer as well!

  • Disagree. Years ago (actually twice) I removed a bunch of green shoots and chewed them. They taste like garlic chives…nothing wrong with that.

  • Oh I am glad! I’ve always said this too, and my husband huffs and puffs about it, as he’s the one who does most of the cooking but he does humour me and removes the green…

    It’s good to know there is a difference, though also helpful to know it’s not so much of an issue when cooking the garlic as using it raw.

  • Ah ha! I love to grow garlic, and we try to make it through the year with the harvest (hardest in April-May when we are anxiously waiting for the garlic flowers/scapes, and last fall’s harvest is starting to shoot – if there is any left). So I have wondered about that green shoot. I’ve tried lots of varieties, and the one that is “red” grows (and tastes) the best. I’m thinking it was red russian, but I am going to look for the l’Ail Rose de Lautrec.

  • The `germ` you refer to is an emerging scape. (BTW The scape at full growth is a delicacy). Garlic needs cold to grow/trigger. This shows the garlic is `waking up` from winter slumber. (Happens naturally around autumn. Sometimes mid-year if garlic is stored in the refrigerator and then left at room temperature & gets fooled.). I don`t find the green bit bitter. But, the quality of the clove can suffer: become a bit pithy as all the goodness goes into the emerging scape. Garlic is a fascinating & hardy plant. Peter

  • Thanks for this experiment. Dorie Greenspan says to remove the green germ, my first encounter with this issue. Now I know what she means and why she recommends it. I appreciate your enlightening all of us.

  • Lisa- I was wondering the same thing re: green stalks having grown in a white onion…

  • I’ve always heard you should take the sprouts out of center of garlic cloves because they are bitter; depending on how lazy I am (or not) i usually do it. All the garlic I get here in Massachusetts (USA) is storage garlic. I like the tip about how to neutralize garlic smell on your hands. Does anyone have an methods that work for cleaning garlic (and onion) smells off of wooden cutting boards?

  • Great garlic tips! To Clara: I rub a cut lemon or lime over my wooden board and air dry it to mask the garlic aroma.
    I raise a lot of garlic varieties since I love the flavor nuances (also shallots and onions) that each bring to food. I plant any stored garlic with a green sprouting stem–ever since tasting one years ago–yuck. Or just throw it away since I’m garlic rich.
    Have you tried garlic chives? One of my favorites herbs when just a hint of garlic is needed.

  • Interesting! I’ve always wondered about that too. Coming from a family of Italian cooks, we never plucked the green part. You’ve presented a good argument to do so in the future though. Thanks for the tip!

  • Amazing….apparently there are no cooks out there that actually taste something. David is a good guy, but try a taste for yourselves. No wonder the Food Channel has viewers. Gheeeeeseh.

  • I was wondering about another garlic question – is it okay to put garlic through one of the those presses? I’ve heard that this will also make the garlic bitter and that it should only be minced by hand with a knife (or in a food processor). Have you heard of this as well? Thanks to anyone who can help me on! Dorothee

  • Thank you!

    I’ve been taking them out, but now I won’t feel silly about it.

  • I think the sprout gives the garlic a floral flavor, for that reason I always pluck them out.

  • Hi david
    Effectivement , en France, on dit toujours qu’il faut enlever le germe mais j’ai toujours entendu dire que c’était pour des raisons de digestion et non pas d’amertume… Mais j’avoue ne jamais avoir testé en gardant le germe….

  • Ah, a clean lint trap! Love the peeling process.

  • Interesting. I’ve never removed the green shoot and absolutely love it raw. I guess it all depends on one’s tastes.

  • David, thanks so much for posting this. Always wondered about this issue and always just removed the green bit blindly without really knowing if it was just a superstition or not. Vindication at last!

  • A Spanish grandmother (not mine) told me to remove the germ (even if not green) if the garlic was to be used raw. Supposed to prevent “repetitions”.

  • Although I just now learned about that little green thingy, I always took it out before cooking the garlic. Glad to know I do something correctly.

    I love garlic … escargot is a fav of mine.

    Nice to have found your site.