This is How to Buy a Head of Garlic at the Grocery
It may be the opposite of what you think.
When headed to the farmer's market or the produce section of your favorite supermarket, you probably rely on your senses to determine the best fruits and veggies for the taking. You'll give an apple a squeeze to determine if it's firm and not bruised. And you can see if the bunches of grapes have any squished up duds. But a true supermarket sleuth will rely on the old sniffer for the ultimate freshness test.
Getting lemons, better make sure they smell like lemons. Powerful fragrance is usually a perfect indicator of freshness.
But did you know that there is one item in the vegetable section where that is not true? As Cook's Illustrated explained, your bulb of garlic should not have a strong smell. Unlike other fruits and vegetables, the potency of the garlic does not indicate freshness. Rather it could indicate poor quality. The reason for this is that the fragrance of the garlic is caused by the compound, allicin, and only appears once the cells have been damaged from cutting or being crushed. Garlic with a strong scent could mean that the bulbs were damaged and overly manhandled when they were transported to the store or sorted for storage. If you peel this garlic, you'll likely see bruises and blemishes on the cloves.
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Next time you're on the hunt for ingredients for spaghetti supper or to ward of vampires, check for firmness with a nearly neutral aroma.