rescue operation: freezing stored garlic, onions

onions and garlic sprouting

REACHING INTO THE NET BAG of onions in my barn this morning, I got a little wakeup call—from a few onions that were themselves waking up. Uh-oh. A quick check of the garlic revealed a couple of restless heads as well. An extra-warm winter has meant an extra-warm storage space, so it’s time to intervene before all is lost. I’m peeling and freezing whole garlic cloves and chopped onions today to get me the rest of the way into the next harvest. It’s simple:

onions chopped to freeze

I slice or chop onions and put them in freezer bags or—to avoid plastic—freezer jars. Freezing the amount you typically use for a recipe in one container rather than a giant portion is easier when it comes time to use the produce.

With the onion pieces and with whole, peeled cloves of garlic, I toss them lightly in a very small amount of olive oil first, hoping to reduce any freezer burn. By freezing about half my cloves each year I never buy garlic but have my own all 12 months. There are several tactics for doing this.

cloves of garlic to freeze

Freezing a portion of your harvest can and should be done at the time the crops are dug and cured, of course—and they’ll be firmer and fresher then (though garlic can be harder to peel when it’s at its peak concentration of oils).  But if some of what you have on hand right now isn’t keeping well, hurry and rescue it by freezing—or making a big batch of stock or soup or something else. With the onions, the choice of rescue-remedy recipe is a no-brainer (and freezes beautifully itself):

One more thing: Be sure to check on other foodstuffs—stored vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash–and overwintering ornamental plants in the garage, basement, coldframe or elsewhere as well right about now. Substantially longer days (and in my location, the unseasonably warm weather) may mean some stored tropicals or not-quite-hardy trees and shrubs want a bit of water or other care to make it the rest of the way till freedom time, or that some tubers and such might be showing signs of decline.

  1. Kim Hicks says:

    Hi- great post-thanks for info. Just one thought about freezing garlic. If you want to retain the health benefits from garlic, I believe you will need to chop it and then let it sit at least 15 minutes before freezing. It will continue to activate after thawing and not lose any properties. Freezing whole loses all benefits-although it still tastes great. I forget the exact language about the chemical reactions but you can google it if you want to learn more. :-)

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Kim, for this suggestion — I can’t track the scientific paper that makes this claim to verify it, but I see various websites with the same paragraph as each other about this that they must have copied from somewhere.

  2. Beverly says:

    Margaret, I have recently pulled my garlic – Northern Virginia. Some of the heads have a greenish tinge to them. Have they been pulled too early?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Beverly. I don’t know whether it’s too early (usually the condition of the wrappers will tell you that — if they are tight and the lower leaves have gone brown, and it’s not all moist/tender), but I also recall that garlic (and all alliums I think) can be very reactive chemically to other elements they combines with/are exposed to because of the sulfur content in them. I think it’s acid and copper in particular that can really turn them odd colors when cooking, pickling, etc. — but I don’t know if any chemical reaction of that kind ever occurs except in cooking (and by the way, it’s not dangerous). Did you leave the bulbs out in the sun? Unlike onions they can’t take that and get sunburned fast — but I don’t know if that would turn them green, either.

  3. Leslie says:

    Hi Margaret!
    Loooove your site even though we are on the west coast above San Francisco (Bolinas). Keep trying to adjust my schedule to yours. At least we do not have destructive hail!! Wish you would develop a farm in the west!!!!
    I planted garlic and shallots for the first time ever this year in a new garden plot on long unplanted property. It did great until it was hit with rust. I hear there is no cure. Sigh….I was able to harvest. So will save some seed and plant in a new plot far, far away, but think my garlic growing days are numbered. I am surprised that no one has mentioned rust on this blog. Does it not exist back east? I certainly will freeze with your new information–thanks!

  4. jo smith says:

    I always freeze my garlic, our climate is too warm and damp so there is no way to keep it otherwise. I just break up the heads and put the cloves in plastic bags. Need to get this done real soon.

  5. Cheryl Mandler says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Love the new format. We found 2 months go that some of our garlic heads were getting soft. We peeled the headsand divided them into cloves and put them in a glass jar with good olive oil. The are still good, 2 on this later and the olive oil tastes amazing.


    1. JoanneNicole says:

      I realize I’m responding to this post several months too late, but I’m surprised no one else did! Cheryl – please, please, please be careful about storing raw garlic in olive oil. It’s the perfect breeding ground for botulism. And there’s no way of telling…it won’t taste like it’s gone bad or anything. It will seem perfectly fine and delicious, but honestly it could kill you and your family. Raw garlic in olive oil can be very dangerous.

  6. Jen says:

    Hi Margaret! I better freeze my garlic- I can’t keep up with it. Do you just take out what you need and let it thaw on the counter before using?
    Thanks! And I like the new format!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Christopher. Not having the ideal storage conditions to get these through to the next harvest in July-ish, I started doing this with part of my crop — and now I have my own garlic year-round!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Barb. Yes, cooked. I cooked up a tray of them (seeds/pulp scooped out, skins on of course) and have been eating them this week, but could have frozen some portions as well. The garlic and onions of course are raw.

  7. Vickie says:

    Hey Margaret, will crops watered with that poisonous water in Virginia and West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania be affected? Just wondering.

  8. Boyd Manges says:

    Like the idea of using glass to freeze garlic…has a tendency to “wander” in the freezer. Keep a good barrier between allium and …everything else!

  9. Jo says:

    I use up a lot of my garlic by producing 2 freezable products with one task:

    I peel and cut a whole bunch of cloves in half, then lay them in a pan (a meat loaf dish is my preference), just barely cover with olive oil, and roast in the over until tender. Then I drain off the (1) deliriously intoxicating infused olive oil into small jars & freezing, and (2) pureeing the roasted garlic gloves and freezing that separately.

    Both keep for a very, very long time in the fridge, and even longer in the freezer. With the oil, you needn’t defrost the whole thing, as it softens very quickly. Extremely versatile for all kinds of cooking and recipes. And the smell while making these is intoxicating.

    (Hint: if you roast beyond the tenderness stage, you can get some truly delicious crisping and caramelizing effects, just be careful not to burn.

    I cook onions before freezing, caramelizing or just pan-cooking sizable batches and freezing them in recipe-sized quantities. Makes weekday-cooking that much easier.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kathy. Here’s my thinking: It’s not going to get any fresher! So if you don’t want to lose it all to deterioration in the coming weeks, I’d cook with it now or freeze it and at least stop the process in its tracks.

  10. CarolO says:

    I just froze a bunch of onions last night. Although onions last a long time in the refrigerator, they do take up their share of space so I leave some in the refrigerator for raw use and others go in the freezer. Very handy for those days you are pushed for time.

    I run my onions through a Salad Shooter (sliced thin) then flash freeze them on a cookie sheet for a couple hours. Then into zip locks they go. If you flash freeze them first, there is no sticking together.

    1. Fawn says:

      Do you know if onion infused olive oil can be frozen in ice cube trays, and then put in freezer bags or air tight containers, and frozen?

      1. margaret says:

        The issue is that pure oil won’t freezer, so it can be unsafe with the added onion element. With onion’s cousin, garlic, the University of California at Davis recommends 1 part garlic to 2 parts oil, for a sauté mixture that remains safely frozen but is soft enough to scrape the needed amount off at any time. So in other words there must be at least that much solid material to make the oil actually freeze.

  11. Christina says:

    Thank You so much for writing and sharing these articles on garlic growing, harvesting, curing and freezing. This is my first year growing garlic, so the details are much appreciated.

    Also, your style of writing is very pleasant.

  12. Carolyn says:

    After reading all the posts on here I am amazed that nobody has mentioned to dehydrate garlic. Easy way to peel garlic is to place the cloves in a jar with a lid and shake for 20-30 seconds and the peel will fall off. Learned that after I spent a whole day peeling garlic! After peeled, I chop the garlic, ( a food chopper comes in handy here). Then spread on my dehydrator racks and dry until hard chopped pieces. I store them in a glass jar and just add as needed to dishes with liquids. You can also rehydrate them in a little water. Can also add to coffee grinder or blender and have fresh garlic powder. Get a dehydrator with a fan and temperature settings. I also set my dehydrator in the garage when doing garlic and thinly sliced onions. Otherwise you will live with the smell all winter long in your house.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Carolyn. I have done this (dehydrating), but just once, to make garlic powder. Thanks for the nudge to try it again.

  13. JCB says:


    A question or two about the Wick jars. Does freezing cause the seals to detiererate? Do you have to replace the seals often?

  14. Janice says:

    Thank you, Margaret, for these tips on how to save fading garlic. Following your advice, I’ve just finished peeling, tossing and freezing my last mesh bag of garlic. And I so appreciate learning about saving half the harvest early on. It’s always been such a sad day when my garlic fades out in March or April and I have to purchase the no-way-near-as-good supermarket variety.

  15. Meg says:

    The comment about raw garlic in olive oil being toxic confuses me. What about the jars sold in stores, aren’t those garlic pieces raw? They are packed in oil. Why are they OK to eat, or are they? Thanks for the help anyone.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Meg. Store-bought commercially packed garlic in oil includes a preservative ingredient to extend its life in your fridge. Homemade doesn’t, hence the potential for spoilage that could include something harmful developing.

  16. Diane Porter says:

    I appreciate the warning about the danger of storing raw garlic in oil. But several posts mention tossing peeled cloves with olive oil before freezing. Isn’t that likely to cause botulism also?

  17. Sandy Loudin says:

    We learned from a friend that the easiest way to peel garlic, especially in large quantities, is to use an air compressor! We use about 30 lbs during canning season and it has cut down our process time immensely! We also grow our own, just harvested about 700 bulbs. Once the garlic is ready, just loosen the cloves from the stem, hold it so you can blow the air at the stem and and it will remove the outer skin and break the cloves free. Then take the air compressor to each clove..Ta Da….peeled garlic!

    1. margaret says:

      Hilarious, Sandy. I don’t have a compressor, but now I am curious to ask my contractor neighbor to try it!

    1. margaret says:

      What about a box of baking soda? First I’d wipe all the surfaces down if you can get to them, then put a box of baking soda (open the top, or punch some holes in the box) in the freezer to absorb odors.

  18. Marla says:

    For the past two years since becoming vegan I have been making an organic vegetable soup year round because I eat it for breakfast every day. I have been using garlic processed and stored in jars with oil – not drowning in it but enough to coat it. I make 4 or 5 jars at a time and have kept them in the fridge. We also use it in stir-frys. We use it up in a couple of months. Now I learn I could be killing us with botulism by doing this. How long is the safe shelf life if stored in the fridge like this?

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