Why Cure Garlic?
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
The drying of garlic is called curing. Curing is the process of letting the garlic dry in preparation for long-term storage. Moisture in the roots and leaves evaporate or withdraw into the bulb. As the garlic dries, the skins and paper wrappers surrounding the cloves shrink and tighten around the bulb, essentially sealing it up in its own natural wrapper. As garlic drys and cures, the energy and macronutrients from the leaves travels into the bulbs as they dry. As the curing process evolves, vascular tissues close in the stems and slowly, the skins on bulbs to begin to harden, providing the best conditions for long-term storage. If our garlic bulbs are small, they may be fully cured within a week or two during warm, dry weather; Larger bulbs may require 4 weeks or longer, especially during cool weather or under humid conditions. If you trim and process the garlic too soon, while it is still moist and green, there is a possibility the exposed cut area, will become contaminated with mold, viruses or fungi, resulting in spoilage.
At the GroEat Garlic Farm, we hang the entire garlic plant (leaves, stem, bulb and roots) bulb-side down so that flavors and juices stored in the leaves and stalk, travel down to the cloves, bringing the best flavor. Some garlic farmers remove the leaves at the top of the plant and lay the garlic on mesh screens; although this decreases curing time, we believe there’s a sacrifice in flavor.
Begin with the Harvest.
It took nine months to go from planting to harvesting our garlic. We waited for a dry spell to commence the bountiful garlic harvest. The soil is dry, we haven't watered the garlic for two weeks and it has not rained for over a week. We harvested and cut off the garlic scapes after they formed - about a month ago. For each plant we dig up and harvest, we transport the entire plant - stem, leaves, bulbs and roots - into a shaded area, away from direct sunlight. Our freshly dug garlic has a powerful odor and looks beautiful. Now that we've dug it all up and moved it into a shaded area, we remove any chunks of dirt from the roots, and have been extremely careful not to bruise the garlic. Within a few hours of harvest, we pull the lowest green leaf from the garlic bulb which helps cleans the garlic bulb. We leave the roots on and do not cut the bulb from the garlic plant, as the roots and plant have a moderating effect on the drying rate. Our garlic can be eaten at any time after harvest although the flavor has not completely developed.
Do Not Wash The Bulbs
It may seem like a logical step in the progression of cleaning the dirt from the bulb, though garlic that is washed, has a tendency to have crinkled, wrinkled bulb wrappers. Unwashed bulbs typically have a tight array of paper wrappers covering the cloves. Washing may have little to no effect on your garlic, though some growers have noticed the paper wrappers on washed garlic, become puckered and wrinkly a month later. The added moisture that would accumulate in the bulb, due to washing, could substantially increase the curing time, and has the potential to contribute to mold formation.
How Long Does Curing Take? How long we let the garlic cure, depends on where we live, our environment, the size of our bulbs, and the weather. The garlic variety and bulb size can also dictate how long it takes to cure. In Montana, where the humidity is very low in August, it may only take 2-3 weeks for the garlic to cure at 60-70 Fahrenheit. In Maine, during a wet, cool summer, it may take much longer for the garlic to cure.
Find a Good Place to Cure Garlic
After harvest, we transport the entire garlic plant into a shady, well-ventilated, dry area. We leave the roots on as they will have a moderating effect on the drying rate. We've learned that garlic should not be laid out and cured in the sun as bright sunshine can literally cook bulbs. The potential damage caused by long-term direct sunlight exposure should not be ignored. A traditional way to cure garlic is to hang bundles of garlic using rope or string. This is what has been recommended as one of the best ways to cure garlic - especially by the "old-timers". Grasp a stack of 5-10 plants, wrap the entire plant in string, and hang the string-wrapped bunches from a rafter or elevated location. Tying and then untying is labor intensive and time consuming. Another option is to lay the whole, unwashed plants intact in a single layer. The garlic plants can be placed on chicken wire, or a wire mesh, allowing good air flow on all sides of the garlic. Good air movement will speed up the drying process and we may wish to incorporate electric fans to help with air circulation. For the first week to ten days, we turn each plant over once a day. There are so many ways to cure garlic successfully, so we do what works best for us. Regardless of whether we tie our garlic, hang it up, or use a rack, dynamic air ventilation is important.
When is Curing Complete?
When the curing process is complete, roots should be fully dried off and should break apart easily if you rub the roots onto a leather glove. Leaves should be dry with a brown or light tan color. The hardneck stems should be dry, and you should be able to unwrap the many layers that comprise the stem. The outer wrapper will feel papery and shrunken when the garlic is dry. The cloves should not be visible. Instead they should be tightly wrapped in the outer papery skin should look like a snow-covered hillside.
Final Processing After Curing
After the garlic is cured, we trim off the roots and cut the stem about one or two inches from the top of the bulb. We use a heavy-grit piece of sandpaper or a sandpaper "block" to free and remove dirt from the root area. Artificial turf also works well for removing dirt from the root area of the bulb. Use a toothbrush, paint brush or soft utility brush to remove dirt from the outer paper wrappings covering the bulb. The outer layer of the wrapper can be removed if further cleaning is desired, but try not to remove much more than that, or your garlic won't last as long as it should. We like to retain at least and inch and 1/2 of stem, which makes the garlic easy to handle. Having a longer stem also helps with "popping" or "breaking" a garlic clove before planting.
Properly cured garlic will store well for several months. Obviously, humidity, temperature, and air flow all play key roles in determining how well garlic will store. A “cool, dark place” is the typical recommendation though there is no exact science to storing garlic. The recommended storage condition is right around 55°F, with 60 percent humidity, with some air circulation. Storing garlic in a refrigerator is not recommended as garlic tends to sprout at colder temperatures. Lower humidity may cause dehydration. Keep garlic out of direct sunlight, and if possible, away from a heat source. Keep in mind that as cured garlic rests in storage, additional moisture will evaporate. Avoid peeling garlic bulbs or cloves until the time of use.
United States Standards for Grades of Garlic.
In September 2016 United State Department of Agriculture document, titled "United States Standards for Grades of Garlic", The director of Speciality Crops describes how grade standards are available for use by producers, suppliers, buyers, and consumers. As in the case of other standards for grades of fresh vegetables, and specialty crops these standards are designed to facilitate orderly marketing by providing a convenient basis for buying and selling, for establishing quality control programs, and for determining loan values.
Grade : “U.S. No. 1” consists of garlic of similar varietal characteristics which is mature and well cured, compact, with cloves well filled and fairly plump, free from mold, decay, shattered cloves, and from damage caused by dirt or staining, sunburn, sunscald, cuts, sprouts, tops, roots, disease, insects, or mechanical or other means. Each bulb shall be fairly well enclosed in its outer sheath. Unless otherwise specified, the minimum diameter of each bulb shall be not less than 1-1/2 inches. (a) Tolerances. In order to allow for variations incident to proper grading and handling, the following tolerances, by weight, are provided as specified: (1) For defects. Ten percent for garlic in any lot which fails to meet the requirements of this grade, including therein not more than 2 percent for garlic which is affected by decay. (2) For size. Five percent for garlic in any lot which fails to meet any specified size. Reserved
Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.