If you love garlic like I do, dehydrating is a great way to preserve it while still retaining much of its taste. It’s also pretty easy to do, especially if you have a dehydrator. Once it’s thoroughly dried, it can be rehydrated for use whenever you need it, or it can be ground up to make garlic powder. Dried garlic has a unique flavor that is quite versatile in the kitchen, and is great to have on hand, especially if you make it yourself from good quality garlic.
Now, for a bit about garlic chemistry. Some of the characteristic taste of garlic comes from a compound called allicin, which is formed whenever garlic is cut, sliced, or crushed. Allicin is part of the garlic plant’s defense mechanism, and helps the plant to protect itself from insects and fungi. The more garlic is ‘injured’, the more allicin is formed. That’s why whole cloves of garlic are milder than slices, and why putting it through a garlic press makes for a stronger flavor.
Freezing garlic destroys the allicin, and pickling changes it due to the action of the acidic vinegar. But dried garlic still tastes garlicky because it retains the components necessary to form allicin. And as soon as it is ground, crumbled, or rehydrated, the allicin is formed and the garlic aroma and flavor is there to enjoy. For ground garlic, it’s best to grind it shortly before using for maximum flavor. Like many spices, once garlic is ground it starts losing its flavor and aroma.
Dehydrating garlic is one of my strategies to use some of our homegrown varieties with a short shelf life before they start to go bad or sprout. Since getting the garlic ready for drying can be somewhat time consuming, I use a couple of gadgets that really help speed up the process. The first one is a garlic peeler. This little tube is amazing. You just put a clove of garlic in it and roll over a hard surface. The skin is loosened, and usually comes right off. It’s a definite time saver when you’re doing a lot of garlic. Of course you can also buy garlic that is already peeled.
The next time-saving gadget I use is a garlic slicer. Zyliss makes the one I am using. It works much like a cabbage slicer does, and has a removable hopper that holds the garlic slices. You can slice two or three cloves at a time with this thing (or one big fat one), and it makes slices of uniform thickness that dry about the same rate. I’m pretty good with a knife, but I’m no match for this handy gadget. And, as a bonus you get to keep all your fingers intact!
Once sliced, it’s ready for drying. Other sources may recommend using higher temperatures, but Ron Engeland, founding farmer of Filaree Farms, recommends slicing the cloves into strips and then dehydrating it at 110°F for about 3 days. I’ve found that our thinly sliced pieces dry quite a bit faster at that temperature, with most batches being ready after about 12 hours in the dehydrator. At any rate, they should be dried until they are hard and crisp all the way through, but are still light in color.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, the garlic slices can be dried in a warm room, out of direct sunlight. It will take a little longer this way, but it’s safer than using an oven, where even the lowest setting will likely be too hot. If the garlic gets brown during drying, it will be bitter. The goal is to let it dry gently, while still retaining the flavor and aroma.
Stored in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid, dried garlic should keep for at least a year. It’s best to keep it in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight and away from heat. Homemade dried garlic is a great way to preserve your garlic harvest. It tastes wonderful, and saves space too. Give it a try sometime, and you may never go back to the store bought versions!