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The sprout in the garlic clove

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The instructor of a cooking class I once took told us that the sprout in a clove of garlic is indigestible and should be removed. I realize that it's best to buy garlic as fresh as possible, before the sprout has had a chance to develop, but this is the real world, where sometimes you just have to take what you can find.

So what do you do about the sprout? Ignore it? Cut it out? Depends how old the garlic is? What if you want to leave the garlic whole in your dish?

I'd be interested to hear the insights of you chowhounds!

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  1. I always remove it. I use a curved paring knife (see link below) It makes slicing a clove in half and removing the sprout a two-second job.


    1. I always remove it, but Mario claims that in some area of Italy these shoots actually are considered a delicacy! You might want to decide for yourself: remove a shoot and eat it. If you like the way it tastes, just leave 'em in.

      1. I doubt the sprout is indigestible. I've had it before with no problem; but then, I'm becoming lactose intolerant in my old age and have absolutely no intentions of refraining from putting cheese and milk in any recipe I can.

        I think it's a matter of taste. The garlic sprout is a very bitter thing, not at all like a bean sprout or lettuce sprout, and also not at all like the garlic clove. It really has more of a radish/chive kind of effect, so it depends entirely on what the garlic is being used on. That flavor might work great with pork, but I wouldn't throw the sprout into my pasta sauce.

        Try it yourself and don't worry about your stomach. It can handle its own. Indigestible? I wonder that no one ever sits down and really thinks about how we came to the foods we came to eat, as a species. How many ancient men suffered to find out which mushrooms were palatable, which disagreeable, which downright poisonous? And what about berries? Who was the desperate man who ate the rancid milk only to discover that it was wonderful cheese? What wanderer fearfully plucked the poison shoots off a cactus to find that the inside could be eaten like fruit and the juice sustain him through the desert?

        Hell, if you can't experiment with your food, then where's the art in it?

        4 Replies
        1. re: aesdanae

          I always think about artichokes. What fool decided to try to eat them? Aren't we grateful he did!

          1. re: laliz

            Olives, too. You'd have to be some sort of food visionary to taste one of those things right off the tree and think, "Maybe if I soak it in brine for a few months..."

            1. re: laliz

              Whoever did, I bet the "choke" certainly gave him more than a little pause. . . .

          2. When I was first getting serious about cooking, most of my cookbooks were from trendy coastal places, and they all warned me never to use garlic that had a green shoot in it. Well, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, and if I'd followed that rule I'd have had to forego using any fresh garlic at all! Then I got one of Elizabeth David's books, and it said: split garlic and remove the green sprout (implying that OF COURSE your garlic has a sprout in it - this is England!).

            I will admit to having just left them in now and then, and never noticed any nasty flavors or symptoms of gastric distress...

            1. If the sprout -- technically called the germ until it sprouts from the clove -- is indigestible or bitter-tasting, it is really only noticeably so when uncooked. My general rule is to degerm when using the garlic raw in salads, sauces, cold soups, etc., and to leave it in otherwise.

              1. I usually remove the sprout, probably from force of habit, since the first time I prepared fresh garlic, my mother so instructed me. However, if the germ is very small and light green I don't bother, if the garlic is to be cooked in any way.

                1. My dear father says, "No, leave it in, that's where all the flavor is." I try to throw out all the aged garlic in their fridge but Dad protests, claiming that the older the garlic is the stronger the flavor, so go figure.
                  OK, neither parent is much of a cook beyond their basic repertoire, but I wonder if the sprouted stem in the center is possibly a culinary myth.
                  I remove it though, I simply like chopping it that way. There's something calming and therapeutic about finding that little thing and taking care to remove it.

                  1. As a child, I remember watching my mother stick garlic cloves on skewers, like a shish kebab, and setting them on a pie plate to just touch the water she had poured in. We harvested the garlic sprouts and ate them, stir fried with pork slivers. Yum.

                    1. I used to remove the sprout until Jacques Pepin, on one of his PBS shows, pooh-poohed the need to do so, in his inimitable Gallic way. I was relieved to have permission not to bother. :)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mcgeary

                        I was going to say that until I read here that someone else said it 6 years ago!

                        1. re: John Francis

                          Yes, but didn't he say you only need to remove it during the winter, when the garlic has been stored longer?

                          1. re: rabaja

                            Did he? That makes no sense to me - it sounds like folklore. Some here say they have a kind of allergy to garlic sprouts, others that they don't. Some say sprouted garlic tastes bitter to them, others not. To each his/her own.

                      2. Seems to me to be one of those dictums spread outside of real experience. One writer had read it in a few places so includes it in her book which is read by someone else, so on and so on.
                        I've never noticed any difference in flavor, digestion, etc so pretty much ignore any warnings in regards to sprouts. OTOH I am very picky about the freshness of the garlic. Since I started growing it myself in No California, I've started using green garlic quite a bit in the spring and really like its subtle flavor.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kevine

                          Last winter we potted some sprouting, softening garlic cloves so the tips were a little below the soil line, put them in our sun room and enjoyed green garlic for weeks before the ones in our garden came up. This is in Chicago, so green garlic in February and March is a treat.

                        2. Well, no less an authority than USA Weekend today says it is ok

                          "Cloves that have sprouted are all right to use but may be milder in taste."


                          Doesn't say to remove the sprout or not though.

                          The only thing I could find was lots of references to the fact that the reason for removing them is that they have a bitter taste, not for health hazards.

                          You learn something new every day ... the sprout is called the 'germ'. Awful name. I only recently learned that the sprout in onions can be used for soups.

                          Being the Home Cooking board and all, here's an old Cherokee recipe for Green Corn Soup using spouted garlic cloves.


                          "The garlic, gives it a touch of the flavor of wild onions, which are as much garlic as onion in flavor"

                          Well there you go. Next time you see a recipe calling for wild onions, you can substitute a sprouted garlic clove.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rworange

                            Nothing wrong with the word "germ". A germ is simply the seed-like bit of a plant or grain that grows into the new plant. Think wheat germ or "germinate". No relation to the icky kind of germs! :)

                          2. Thanks for all the responses! Interesting to hear all the opinions out there.

                            My Italian grandmother never removed or even mentioned the sprout when she taught me how to cook. It wasn't till I took that class that I even thought about it. But since then I've always removed the sprout. I can't say I notice any difference in the garlic because of it. Might just stop, not sure yet!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Kagey

                              The sprouts are not indigestible. In fact, they are delicious. My father used to order a small plate of garlic sprouts lightly sauteed with chinese sausages in Taiwan. The Koreans let the sprouts grow out a bit and then pickle them in spicy sauce, also delicious. When cooked the sprouts are very aromatic. I've never tried them raw. I never throw them out; it seems like such a waste.

                              The idea that leaving a tiny green sprout in a dish would somehow alter the flavor of the entire dish sounds puritanical and absurd.

                            2. I've always wondered if the sprout should be removed! Thanks for posting.
                              To follow-up on this theme, where does everyone store their garlic? Should it go in the fridge? I generally leave it in my hanging fruit basket thingy, but then it may sprout faster there - I really don't know!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: JessWil

                                Jacques Pepin says he keeps in the frig but I usually forget to do so.
                                Alice Waters always makes a big deal about removing the sprout but it tastes fine to me....

                                1. re: JessWil

                                  cow college (forget which one, sorry!) says fridge'll keep em from sprouting so soon. am trying myself, will see if helps!

                                2. I remember reading an article in CI where they made dishes leaving the sprouts in, versus removing them, to see if there was a difference in flavor.

                                  They found that the same dish prepared leaving the sprouts in produced a more bitter tasting end product. Consequently, I remove them, which is easy enough.

                                  1. I don't generally bother removing green sprouts, and I'm pretty sensitive to bitter flavors. As others have said, green garlic sprouts are a delicacy, though I suppose it's possible the baby sprout won't be as tasty as the adolescent sprout. Guess I should just do a taste test myself someday. Right now, I'll take them out when preparing a vinaigrette, just in case, but only then.

                                    1. I can't stand the taste of the garlic sprout.

                                      A few years back, on the advice of a television chef (possibily Pepin), I left the sprouts on in a dish I was making. I don't recall the exact dish, but I remember is was a quadruple recipe and I had to throw the whole thing away.

                                      Onion sprouts are even worse.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: scott123

                                        the sprouts are called scapes and are enjoyed by many people. Here is a link i found to someone talking about cooking them. http://writes4food.com/2012/06/06/coo...

                                        1. re: ekalmalc

                                          scapes are "grown shoots" not just sprouts.

                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                            Thanks, the subtlties of the scapes 'scape me at the moment. Definitions aside, young garlic scapes are more tender and more flavorful, and they are often called for and preferred in recipes.

                                          2. re: ekalmalc

                                            Thanks, I'm aware that scapes=sprouts and that some people enjoy them. Just not this person :)

                                        2. I remove it as it is hard to digest. I use more garlic if I need to with the sprout removed. Once removed the garlic does not get bitter and you will not get garlic breath.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Ruthie789

                                            What are the symptoms of the sprouts being "hard to digest". To my knowledge that would not be an issue as you'd just poo it out whole rather than digesting it. I always hear people saying this but is what you really mean, it upsets your stomach?

                                            1. re: ekalmalc

                                              I can't imagine it would any harder to digest than a string bean

                                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                                A string bean does not have the strong flavour that garlic or onions have. It is not the fiber that causes discomfort it is the strong oil or flavour in the germ.

                                              2. re: ekalmalc

                                                It means causing pain in the upper GI tract. Acid, regurgitation, discomfort, could be for hours on end. Not everyone can eat garlic or heavy foods. I am unable to eat much garlic, my test, my sister cooks authentic Lebanese food as her husband is from Lebananon. I cannot eat the food. I have found that removing the germ or sprout enables me to eat the garlic with little discomfort. I also cannot eat foods at Italian restaurants which use excessive garlic either and yet if I make a pasta sauce at home using 3 cloves of garlic with the germ removed I am able to eat the sauce..

                                                1. re: Ruthie789

                                                  That's fascinating. You should do a double-blind tasting and see if you get the same effect.

                                            2. I ignore it. Have never had a digestive problem due to doing so.

                                              1. I never remove the sprout, except for cutting off the excess sprouting out of the top. I've never had a digestive problem or noticed a difference.

                                                "Won't get garlic breath" ???? Why in the wide world of sports would you want to AVOID getting garlic breath? My ideal day is started by either having the smell of freshly diced garlic or celery on my hands - garlic breath is the final touch!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: GutGrease

                                                  To each his own gutgrease, I don't like to smell like garlic, you do, it's a free world!

                                                  1. re: GutGrease

                                                    You do have to talk to others, at some point, I presume.
                                                    Americans are squicky about odors in general. And garlic is distinct.

                                                    1. If the garlic is going to be cooked for a short time like stir fry, take it out.

                                                      If it's flavouring things like stews, or roasts that will be cooking for a while then just leave it.