To remove or not to remove the garlic germ is commonly debated in the food industry. Some people argue that the germ plays an important role in the flavor profile of the garlic while many others argue otherwise. Well, we lay all that debating to rest in this article as we discuss what the germ is and if it's really right to discard it.
The straightforward answer is that the germ indeed pays no important contribution to the flavour profile of the entire clove. There isn't a significant difference between young garlic with and without the germ removed.
However, aged garlic with the germ intact was perceived as being overwhelmingly pungent and harsh when raw, and acrid—even slightly burnt-tasting—in the cooked application.
Now, let's get into the science behind this answer:
Garlic is plentiful all year around which is why it might be hard to believe that it's actually seasonal. But, it is; garlic harvests begin late summer and extend until late fall.
Nearly all cultivated garlic reproduces asexually, and is grown by planting cloves into the ground. The garlic germ is held in a small cavity in the center of a fertile garlic clove — in other words, it’s basically a future garlic plant!
That's why garlic cloves are botanically referred to as storage buds. More specifically, the dried outer hull on a garlic clove is called the protective leaf, while the collection of fructose chains that make up the clove is actually a swollen storage leaf. The garlic germ is located within that leaf, set to fully sprout and begin new life.
The germ is made up of a tiny stem and leaf and it utilizes the starch reserves in the surrounding clove for its growth process. After garlic is harvested, it goes through a curing process, where the heads are stored in well-ventilated, dry storage for about two weeks.
During this curing process, the garlic loses up to 20% of its original moisture content and obtains its signature concentrated flavor. Fresh garlic, straight from the ground, is actually pretty mild. Garlic doesn’t become pungent until after the curing process and a cook breaks open its cells.
Since garlic is seasonal, it is harvested in the summer and fall then kept in refrigerated storage in a nitrogen atmosphere for months, making it available year-round. As the garlic ages, moisture is lost from each clove, and the clove's flavor becomes pronounced.
That explains the pungent flavor that old garlic with its germ intact gives off. Thus, the recommendation that it'd be best to remove the germ in your garlic clove if you observe that it's gotten too big.