Garlic (Allium sativum) is an herb that has many uses: cooking, medicinal, companion planting and vampire repellent. Today, I will discuss the different types of garlic, and will continue with a series of posts discussing planting, and using garlic.
A bulb of garlic is made up for four to 20 cloves of deliciousness. Each clove is covered with a papery skin that needs to be removed before using it for cooking. There are many varieties of garlic which can be classified into two categories: hardneck and softneck.
The softneck category can be planted mechanically, stores longer, grows in more climates, mature faster, and are more productive forming more cloves on a larger bulb. All of those reasons contribute to why this garlic is preferred by commercial operations and processors. This type can be braided. Softnecks do not generally bolt and therefore do not produce garlic scapes or seed. This may be why more cloves are present in each bulb upon maturation. The flavor is generally milder and more “vegetable like” than the hardnecks. There are two varieties of softneck garlic: Silverskin and Artichoke
Artichoke: This is the primary variety propagated in California and shipped around the country. This is the easiest to grow and will mature in even warmer climates. There are several cultivars in this variety with a range of flavors ranging from mild to strong.
Silverskin: This variety grows happily in the widest range of climates. They store the best out of any of the garlics, but they are the last to mature. This variety has a slew of cultivars with varying pungency, colors (both in the clove and foliage), and harvest time.
Hardnecks have a long flowering stem (garlic scapes) in the middle of the bulb. Removing this scape during growth will cause the plant’s energy to focus on the bulb, causing a bigger bulb for you to eat (and you can eat the scape!). Due to the central stem, which gives the bulb a “hard neck”, this variety cannot be braided. This type of garlic is more colorful and yields a greater variety of tastes. There are three main varieties of hardneck garlic:
Rocambole: This is the most widely known and therefore most cultivated hardneck garlic. This variety is preferred by chefs for its deep full bodied flavor and cloves which are easily peeled. The biggest downside with this type is its lack of storability. This variety stores well for about 6 months. They also grow best in zone 6 or cooler.
Porcelain: This garlic has huge cloves that store well, second only to the Silverskin. Porcelain garlic tends to be the hottest, strongest garlic and thus packs the biggest wallop when it comes to medical advantages. This hardy garlic does best in Northern climates, but will produce as far south as Texas.
Purple Stripe: Unsurprisingly, purple streaks decorate the outside of this bulb. They have a more mild flavor than the Porcelain, and when baked become almost sweet. This is the garlic that is usually baked or roasted. I read an account of someone who ate some baked Purple Stripe garlic, specifically Chesnok Red, and swore it had the same flavor and texture as ice cream. While I find this a little hard to believe, I wouldn’t mind trying it myself. When I do, I’ll report back!
Each type of garlic has its pros and its cons. It is interesting to note that there is not a single kind of garlic, but many that vary in size, taste and texture, much like apples, peppers, and even green beans. I recent purchased two types of garlic, Chesnok Red (look out ice cream garlic!) and Music, a Porcelain variety. I plan to cultivate these over the years and add different varieties year after year. I would love to set up a garlic exchange next year so we can all diversify our garlic harvest without emptying our pockets. Variety is the spice of life, especially when we are discussing actual spices.