I have a new favorite thing: pickled garlic

It might not ever be your favorite thing, but if you are a garlic lover and haven't ever tried pickled garlic, I'm here to tell you that you're missing out.

Pickled garlic, as you might guess, is garlic that's been preserved in vinegar and pickling spices (such as pepper, salt, thyme, etc.) It comes as whole cloves in small (about 5 ounces) tall jars, rather like the sort that cocktail onions come in.

The taste? Quite excellent, if you like garlic. The cloves are crisp, but the overpowering pungency of raw garlic has been muted and enhanced with the tanginess of the vinegar and the other spices.

Pickled garlic isn't good for every garlic purpose; I wouldn't use pickled garlic in cream-based sauces for fear it'd cause unpleasant curdling. But if you mainly use garlic in dishes such as vinegar-based dressings, salads, in tomato sauces, or on pizzas, then keeping a jar around is an excellent way of making sure you'll have whole cloves around all the time without fear of them going bad (though you do have to refrigerate the jar after you've opened it).

Pickled garlic cloves are great as a standalone snack item, particularly if you've been consuming the recommended 1-2 cloves of garlic a day for its health properties. Since pickled garlic is more intact than dried garlic powder, I expect it provides more of the phytochemicals that have beneficial anticoagulant (blood thinning) and cholesterol-lowering properties.(There's some debate on this; the act of cooking garlic breaks down its cell walls and partially destroys the chemicals in garlic, which is why cooked garlic is so much milder than raw garlic. However, some pickling forms use less heat than others, so your mileage may vary with brand on how much health benefit is to be had from pickled garlic versus dried, sliced garlic).

Garlic also has antibacterial properties, which I tested out last night from my new jar of Christopher Ranch brand. For the past couple of days, I'd been having a nagging, worsening one-sided sore throat that was pretty clearly the start of tonsilitis. So, I ate about nine cloves of garlic. And when I woke up this morning, my throat was much, much better. Coincidence? Placebo effect? I can't tell, but the garlic was sure as heck a lot tastier than penicillin.

Be aware, of course, that if you try this at home, you should warn (and apologize in advance to) your significant other ar anyone else you share close space with. Because after eating any large quantity (the serving size is listed as three cloves) you will have extreme dragon breath. No-good, awful, horrible, terrible breath. And the next day, every molecule in your being will stink like garlic.

The only downside to pickled garlic is that it's a bit of a specialty gourmet item (at least in the States), and thus will be a bit hard to find and a bit expensive ($4-$5 US, with some as high as $8 a jar). But, a little does go a long way, so unless you're a garlic-fiending hermit a jar should last you for several months.

And, of course, you can make your own pickled garlic if you're handy in the kitchen. Pickling, when done correctly, is pretty safe for storing garlic. I've seen reports that raw garlic preserved in just olive oil has a high risk of botulism, since the anaerobic bacteria that cause botulism thrive in olive oil and are apparently unaffected by the chemicals in garlic.

There's a quick way to make your own pickled garlic. Take some quantity of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Put them in a clean jar with an airtight lid, then add enough red wine vinegar to cover. Add some table salt (about a tablespoon per cup of vinegar). Close up the jar, then shake it to dissolve the salt. Put the jar in your refrigerator and leave it alone for two weeks for the garlic to "cure". After the two weeks are up, enjoy. Garlic preserved this way should keep for at least a few months (you do have to keep it in the fridge, of course); discard it if the garlic become mushy or unusually discolored.

m_turner has rightly pointed out that there are recipes in which one can use liquors like vodka (or regular wine) to pickle garlic. The resulting liquid can be used in interesting drinks like the Scicilian martini. For such a recipe, visit http://russia-in-us.com/Cuisine/Dadiani/vodka.htm

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