Pickling is yet another efficient way to preserve gourmet garlic so that you will have plenty to enjoy until the next harvest. Garlic is extremely versatile as a pickling vegetable, because it works well with so many other flavors. It is also as easy and straightforward to process as any other vegetable.
As garlic pickles are a high-acid food, the water-bath canning method of preserving is sufficient in terms of both safety and storage life. The garlic bulbs are usually separated into individual cloves and peeled before being pickled, however, I have also seen some truly inspired whole-bulb pickles. Smaller-cloved varieties tend to be better for pickling as, although they take more time to peel than larger cloves, the flavor of your pickling solution will be able to permeate the garlic more efficiently.
Pickled garlic can be flavored with a vast variety of herbs and spices, ranging from the standard fare of mustard seed, bay leaves and cloves, to the more exotic curry and soy-sauce based. Garlic is also extremely complimentary to vegetable additions, with peppers and pearl onions being particularly popular choices. A favorite combination of ours is fresh gourmet garlic, hot peppers and green tomatoes, a tasty snack when paired with a cold beer after working in the garden all day!
Aside from being eaten straight from the jar, pickled garlic can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. It can be added to sauces, slaws and salads, or enjoyed as part of an antipasto platter. It also makes an interesting and unusual gift that is both practical and visually appealing, especially if you add a combination of brightly colored vegetables.
Be aware, however, that when you pickle garlic, there will be changes to both the flavor and texture of the cloves. Though still garlicky, the taste will become less sharp and intense, mellowing and becoming somewhat sweeter. This change is something to keep in mind when you are adding sugar during the pickling process. In many cases, the cloves will also become softer and creamier. If you are looking instead for a crisper texture, either add alum to your pickling solution, or line the bottom of each jar with a grape leaf.
The therapeutic benefits associated with eating fresh garlic will also be significantly reduced through the pickling process. Alliinase, an enzyme necessary for the production of allicin (considered one of the main beneficial compounds) is inactivated in very acidic environments, such as pickling liquid. If the alliinase is neutralized, then allicin cannot be formed.
When garlic is pickled, you will sometimes notice that it can take on a blue or green hue. Blue garlic occurs for several reasons, and there are precautions you can take to help prevent it.
When acid such as vinegar is added to the garlic, it ruptures the cell membranes of the cloves, causing amino acids and sulfur compounds present in the garlic to mix. An enzyme, isoallin, is subsequently released. Isoallin reacts with the amino acids, resulting in blue pigments called anthocyanins. These pigments are naturally present in the garlic, and damage to the cells increases the amount of these pigments, and thus their visibility.
Garlic may also appear blue due to the type of garlic and the soil conditions it was grown in. Anthocyanins are present in greater amounts in some garlic cultivars than others, so these types naturally exhibit greater color. Acidic soil conditions can also increase these pigments, giving the garlic a bluish-green tint even before you begin the pickling process. There is as yet unsettled debate over whether immature or mature garlic colors more readily.
Finally, the presence of metal traces in the water of your pickling solution can also affect the color. Copper, for example, will combine with the sulfur compounds in the garlic to produce blue-hued copper sulfate. A blue-green tinge can also be caused by metal equipment, including aluminum, cast iron, and tin, used in the pickling process.
To help avoid discoloration, use distilled water to ensure an absence of trace metals. Use a salt that does not contain iodine, such as Kosher, since iodine will also cause color changes; avoid table salt. Finally, like most pickles, garlic needs to be kept out of the sunlight. Sunlight will prompt the formation of chlorophyll, making the garlic turn green.
Sometimes your garlic will turn blue no matter what you do, but it is not something to worry about. The garlic is perfectly safe to eat, and will retain the same taste. In fact, in parts of northern China, pickled garlic is encouraged to turn as blue as possible to produce Laba pickles, a garlicky delicacy served during the New Year!