We’ve never met a garlic product we like better than a fresh clove. Recently, we’ve noticed many supermarkets carrying jars or deli containers of prepeeled garlic cloves and wondered how they compare to fresh garlic bought by the head. We tasted both kinds of garlic raw in aïoli, sautéed in spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, and lightly cooked in stuffed rolled flank steak. In all cases, results were mixed, with neither freshly peeled nor prepeeled garlic claiming victory.
However, we did notice a difference in shelf life: A whole head of garlic stored in a cool, dry place will last for at least a few weeks, while prepeeled garlic in a jar (which must be kept refrigerated) lasts for only about two weeks before turning yellowish and developing an overly pungent aroma, even if kept unopened in its original packaging. (In fact, in several instances we found containers of garlic that had started to develop this odor and color on the supermarket shelf.) But if you go through a lot of garlic, prepeeled cloves can be an acceptable alternative. Just make sure they look firm and white with a matte finish when you purchase them.