Garlic is a member of the lily family, though you don't usually associate it with flowers after that first, pungent whiff of its distinctive scent. Known affectionately as the stinking rose, garlic can be harsh enough to ward off the undead or sweet enough to spread on a hot, crusty bialy. What garlic should never be is bitter. Understand the basics of how to choose, cook and store garlic, so that sneaky bitter taste will never come back to bite you.
Choose the freshest possible whole heads of garlic. The color should be clean and white with no visible dark spots or mold. The papery outer coating of the garlic should be tight and crisp, so that the garlic looks like a well-wrapped gift.
Cook with chopped, minced, smashed or pressed garlic immediately rather than letting it sit. Garlic gets its flavor from diallyl disulfide, which is a natural oil that turns bitter when exposed to the air. The finer the pieces of garlic, the more oil is released, so a whole clove can sit for longer than pressed garlic before turning bitter.
Saute garlic slowly over low heat to release the flavor. When garlic is overcooked, it turns bitter. When cooking garlic with other ingredients – such as celery and onions – do not add the garlic until the other vegetables have softened.
Store garlic in a cool, dry place. Humidity can encourage mold, and even the refrigerator can be too moist an environment. Garlic does well when placed in a clay plant pot and set into a pantry or cupboard that is away from the heat of the oven and the steam from a coffee maker.
Busting the Bitter Garlic Problem
Old garlic that's starting to sprout may taste a little bitter compared to a younger clove. The good news is that the entire clove doesn't taste bitter, but the green sprout or "germ" within it can taste bitter when cooked because it burns faster than the other parts of the garlic. To eliminate this potential problem, slice sprouted garlic cloves in half vertically for better access to the sprout or germ inside. Use the tip of a knife to remove the entire green germ from each garlic clove half and you've removed the bitterness.
If garlic almost always seems too bitter or strong for your tastes, a little pre-heating can remove some of its bite. Blanch whole garlic cloves in water for five minutes before slicing or mincing them. Microwaving whole, uncut cloves in a glass bowl for two minutes, or long enough to warm but not cook them, also works. Both methods use heat to deactivate the sulfur released when garlic is cut, eliminating that nasty bite.