Plus, how to store garlic, how long it lasts, and an easy hack for getting that (strong) garlic smell off your hands after peeling it.
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While it's most commonly used as an herb or spice in cooking, garlic is actually a vegetable. There are more than 20 types of garlic, but the most common are strong, white-skinned American garlic and the milder, purple-streaked Italian and Mexican types. Elephant garlic, so called because each bulb is about four times the size of American or Mexican varieties, is also a common type but is technically in the onion family.

You're probably already familiar with garlic's pungent taste (and smell), but here are a few more facts to know when it comes to cooking with fresh garlic.

Choosing a Fresh Garlic Bulb

Garlic is available year-round, and common types can be purchased loose as a single bulb or "head" as it's sometimes called. To select the freshest, most flavorful garlic, look for a dry, solid bulb that is plump, compact, and heavy. Resist the urge to buy peeled or chopped garlic; the flavors are harsher and stronger and will make your pesto taste more like a pesticide. Plus, the jars will make a refrigerator reek.

How to Store Garlic

The best way to store garlic is to keep it in a cool, dark spot. The refrigerator is fine, but you cannot freeze garlic; it will ruin the texture and turn the flavor from aromatic to acrid.

How Much Is a Clove of Garlic?

There are about 10-12 cloves of garlic in a bulb, and one garlic clove converts to 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic or 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.

Substitutes for Fresh Garlic

While fresh garlic is best, the dried stuff will do in a pinch. A medium-sized clove of fresh garlic is equivalent to:

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Tricks for Peeling and Prepping Garlic

The easiest way to peel a garlic clove is to place it under the flat side of a broad, heavy knife and bang it with your fist. The papery skin will slip right off. There is also an entire shelf of tools at the gourmet store devoted to peeling and preparing the clove, and it's worthwhile to check out three of them:

  • A garlic press. This tool can eliminate the peeling step, although you won't get as much pulp as when you press peeled cloves.
  • A rubber cannoli. When you need whole, peeled garlic cloves, try a rubber cannoli. Drop a clove in one end, rub the tube on the countertop, and a perfectly stripped clove slides out the other side. (A rubber jar opener works, too.)
  • A garlic slicer. Another handy tool to have in the utensil drawer is a garlic slicer. Like a mini mandoline, it creates wispy thin slices of garlic, which, when sautéed in olive oil, make a delicious garnish on vegetables and in salads.

How to Mince Garlic

If you need just a clove or two, peel the clove, slice it in half lengthwise, and mince with a small paring knife. The more you mince, the more sulfur compounds you'll release and the more garlic flavor you'll add to your dish. To chop or mince multiple cloves, let the blade of a food processor start turning, then drop the cloves through the feed tube. If you put the cloves in before turning on the machine, they'll ricochet and remain relatively intact.

How to Get the Smell of Garlic Off Your Hands

Ingested garlic stays with you because it contains oils that get into your blood and lung tissue and remain in your system long after it's been consumed. The remedies―chewing parsley, and taking chlorophyll tablets―sound good but don't work. "You may have success in temporarily covering the odor, but once it's in your system, nothing but time will eliminate it. So enjoy it," says George Preti, PhD, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, an organization that studies the science of taste and smell.

Chopping garlic is another story, though: To get the smell of garlic off your hands, simply rub your fingers on stainless steel. Stainless "soap" bars are sold for this purpose, but a steel sink or saucepan works just as well.

How Long Does Garlic Last?

Stored properly, garlic bulbs can last up to eight weeks. Garlic that sprouts can still be used; just remove the bitter green shoots.