I love using garlic in nearly every meal I make for my family. However, I must be honest,
I don’t particularly care for the sticky substance it makes while I chop and dice as I do meal prep.
This made me wonder why exactly is garlic so sticky?
And how can I keep the sticky stuff from covering my knife, chopping board, and fingers?
You may have the same questions, and I have the answers.
Why Is Garlic Sticky?
Garlic only becomes sticky when you chop or crush it with a knife or garlic press/crusher. The reason why garlic cloves become sticky is that the mercaptans, a sulfur-containing compound, in the garlic react to the other sulfur-containing compounds, like cysteine and methionine, that’s found in your skin, nails, and hair. When the mercaptans and cysteine or methionine come into contact with each other, they form a chemical bond, called a disulfide bridge. This chemical reaction causes the stickiness you feel on your skin. While many people think sticky garlic is garlic that has gone bad, this isn’t true – the stickiness is merely an indication that the garlic is fresh and full of flavor.
When Does Garlic Become Sticky?
Whole garlic isn’t sticky.
It is only when you start crushing and chopping and dicing the bulbous flowering plant that it becomes a sticky mess.
The garlic releases a pungent liquid, which causes it to stick to your fingers and knife. But what’s the science behind this?
The Why Behind Sticky Garlic
Garlic contains sulfur-containing compounds called mercaptans. When you chop or crush the garlic cloves, mercaptans are released.
This chemical is attracted to and interacts with amino acids that contain sulfur-containing compounds that are found in your skin, hair, and nails.
Two of these are methionine and cysteine that have sulfur atoms.
When mercaptans and cysteine or methionine, also called sulphuryl groups, come into contact, they form a disulfide bridge, which is a strong chemical bond between the sulfur molecules that lasts for days.
This is why you have garlic-smelling hands for days after peeling garlic.
Like hydrolyzed sugar (think honey) that sticks to your skin, crushed or chopped garlic does the same and the smell of garlic does the same.
And what about your chopping board, garlic press, or knife that gets sticky when you chop garlic?
The blade of your knife gets sticky because the garlic juices coats it, and then the juices get dry, and then builds up again as you chop and slice and dice the garlic.
Eventually, your knife gets sticky.
The same happens to the garlic press.
With wooden and plastic chopping boards, the garlic juice gets absorbed by the porous surface.
To avoid the garlic juice seeping in and causing bacterial growth (and an unsanitary chopping board), thoroughly rub your chopping board with lemon juice.
Is Sticky Garlic Bad Garlic?
Garlic you are chopping or crushing that is sticky isn’t garlic gone bad. Instead, it is a good sign that the garlic is fresh and flavorful.
However, if the whole, uncut, and raw garlic is sticky or slimy, then it has gone bad. You might even see brown spots or mold growing on the garlic.
How to Prevent Garlic From Sticking to Your Knife and Fingers
No one likes working with sticky hands while preparing their meals. This just makes cleaning up all the more of a challenge.
Follow these tips to prevent garlic from sticking to your fingers, knives, and kitchen appliances.
Method 1: Add Coarse Salt
Sprinkle coarse salt (like sea salt) onto the garlic clove after you roughly chopped it.
The salt disrupts the chemical reaction between the mercaptans and amino acids, meaning the garlic won’t be so sticky. Plus, the coarse salt also creates a physical barrier between your fingers, the knife blade, and the chopping board.
Method 2: Use Olive Oil
If you can’t use salt in your diet or accidentally run out of some, you can also use olive oil.
Coat your knife blade with olive oil, and also dip your fingers in some.
The oil will ensure the sticky garlic doesn’t stick to your fingers or the blade of your knife.
Method 3: Use the Flat Side of Your Blade
Sprinkle coarse salt as described in Method 1. Then, turn your blade flat so it’s parallel to your chopping board. Mince the garlic using this broad, flat side of the knife blade.
The salt, acting as an abrasive, helps to soften the garlic so you can crush it more easily.
Method 4: Run Water Over Your Blade
Another method to keep the sticky garlic from sticking to a knife is to run water over both sides of the blade. The water will temporarily create a barrier between the blade and the sticky garlic.
This barrier won’t last very long, so chop quickly (and mind your fingers).
At least the bit of water also dilutes the garlic juices, so there’s less bonding power for the chemicals.
Method 5: Use a Garlic Crusher (and Olive Oil)
You can also use a garlic crusher to mince your garlic cloves. However, this device won’t be so easy to clean since the stickiness will stick to the sides of the crusher.
So to help you, lightly coat the garlic crusher with olive oil before you add the cloves. Then crush them. Cleaning the crusher should be much easier now.
Method 6: Wear Gloves
Wearing food-grade gloves protect your hands from getting sticky when you work with garlic. This will also save your hands from absorbing the pungent garlic smell that’s activated when you crush or chop garlic cloves.
Freuently Asked Questions About Why Is Garlic Sticky
How long can you store garlic?
If kept in a cool, dry, and dark space, like your pantry, garlic can be stored for 3-5 months. If you squeeze the garlic and it is soft, then it has gone bad and you shouldn’t use it.
Can you store garlic in the fridge or freezer?
Garlic can be stored in the fridge or freezer. In the fridge, store garlic in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. In the freezer, store individual cloves, chopped garlic, puréed garlic, or a whole bulb in an airtight container or Ziploc bag for up to 6 months.
Is garlic bad if it’s slimy?
Fresh garlic is firm and once you chop it, it can become sticky. However, if your garlic is slimy and soft, toss it.
The Last Stick
Sticky fingers ain’t fun, especially when you are working in the kitchen and have a lot of prep. It just means that you need to keep cleaning.
There are easy ways to prevent crushed or chopped garlic cloves from sticking to your hands, knife blade, chopping board, or garlic press/crusher.
So follow the tips outlined above and remember it is simply the sulfur-containing compounds in garlic and your skin, hair, and nails that react to form the stickiness.