Garlic plants grow from bulbs in tall flowering stems and can grow up to 3ft high. In the northern hemisphere they flower in the warmer months; July through September.
Typically the bulbs contain between 10 to 20 cloves, but this can change depending on the variety. The cloves have a strong aroma and are covered in thin sheathing leaves.
When planted at the right time and depth, garlic is very hardy and will grow as far north as Alaska! This, plus the numerous health benefits, are some of the reasons why it’s a must-have in any home garden.
Where Does Garlic Come From?
Fresh garlic has been a common seasoning across the world for millennia. It was used as a condiment and traditional medicine, across Europe and Asia.
Scientists believe the garlic came from the regions between central Asia and Iran. However, the evidence is inconclusive. Most wild garlic varieties from these regions are sterile. And there’s not much research on garlic.
“Misuse of garlic is a crime… Please treat your garlic with respect”
Anthony Bourdain, American chef, author, and travel documentarian.
How Many Types of Garlic Are There?
If you source your garlic solely from the grocery store, then you probably have only ever tried one type of garlic.
But there are countless varieties of garlic from all over the world. Each with distinct characteristics and flavor profiles.
With so many different types to choose from, it can be difficult to pick the perfect kind to grow in your garden.
In this article, we take a look at different types of garlic and help you determine the best option for your garden.
How Do You Identify a Garlic?
True garlic has two major subspecies:
- Softneck Garlic
- Hardneck Garlic
These further break down into two subtypes under Softneck garlic and eight under Hardneck garlic:
Softneck Garlic Varieties
Softneck varieties (Allium sativum sativum) are the most widely available. They are typically the kind you will find in most grocery stores.
Softneck garlic is a popular option for commercial use because of how easy it is to grow and maintain. It’s not delicate and will survive automated planning.
Additionally, it does not need mid-season scape pruning.
Softneck garlic has a mild flavor and grows best in warm USDA zones 5 and higher.
It also has a lot of small plantable cloves per bulb ideal for regrowth and multiplication.
The two Softneck garlic subtypes are:
Softneck artichoke garlic has fewer, but bigger cloves. It also has a mellower flavor compared to silverskin garlic.
Sometimes, due to the bigger cloves, it can retain moisture, which leads to mold during storage. But when properly dried, it can keep for up to eight months.
This is a little smaller, and far more flavorful than artichoke garlic. It’s easier and faster to dry and will keep better, usually up to a year in the right conditions.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
Hardneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) typically have stronger flavors and larger cloves.
Additionally, they produce a woody central stalk, and a green shoot called a scape in the spring.
Garlic scapes refer to the flowering stalks that sprout from the bulbs. Scapes grow to form a bulbil with tiny cloves identical to the parent bulb.
Although scapes are a delicacy in many cuisines, farmers usually chop them off. They do this to encourage the plants to focus all their energy on growing bulbs.
Hardneck garlic varieties also do better than softnecks in cold weather.
Officially, there are five types of garlic under hardneck, and three under weakly bolting hardnecks. These are:
Rocambole has the best flavor. It serves as the golden standard for home gardeners looking for a rich, full-bodied taste.
However, Rocambole garlic is very particular about overwatering. It won’t perform well in wet areas and needs hotter weather than other varieties.
Rocambole garlic produces between 8 to 12 cloves in a single layer around the stalk and is easy to peel.
Its outer skin can range from striped to red and pink.
When dry, Rocambole garlic can keep for six months or more.
Porcelain garlic is closely related to Rocambole in flavor. It produces large cloves, usually four to six, and is covered in a smooth white wrapper.
Although the outer skin is white, individual cloves are usually covered in red/brown skin.
Porcelain garlic is popular with home gardeners because it’s highly adaptive to different growing conditions. It also keeps very well, usually for up to eight months in the right conditions.
Purple Stripe Garlic
There are three kinds of garlic under this subtype, all with distinctive purple streaks.
- Purple stripe garlic
- Marbled stripe garlic
- Glazed purple garlic
Previously, all three varieties were classified under the same subtype – Purple Stripe Garlic. But now they each form their own distinct subtype.
They produce between 8 to 12 cloves per bulb and are famous for making the best baked-garlic.
Marbled Stripe Garlic
This is a variety of garlic similar to the Purple Stripe garlic. Except that it has fewer, larger cloves.
In wet areas, it tends to hold water within the bulb, thus needs extra attention when curing.
A popular cultivar from this subtype is the Gourmet Red garlic.
Glazed Purple Garlic
This is another strain formerly classified under the Purple Stripe garlic.
It’s more delicate than the other striped varieties due to its thinner outer skin.
Glazed Purple Stripe is also very tender, making it less ideal for commercial growth. It’s mostly kept alive through heritage conservancies and family growers.
Intermediate Garlic Varieties
Besides these five hardneck garlic cultivars, we also have three weakly bolting hardnecks. These are varieties that can produce a scape in harsh conditions such as drought or excessive heat. But otherwise grow like a softneck.
They are the middle ground between the hardneck and softneck varieties. Thus the term “intermediate.”
The three different types of intermediate garlic are:
This is among the fastest-growing garlic types available. It gets big and matures very fast. This makes it a popular option with gardeners who want to have fresh garlic as soon as possible. And multiple times within the year.
However, they don’t keep for long. Asiatic garlic usually starts to sprout after about four to five months after harvesting.
When eaten raw, it has a strong flavor profile with a bit of heat.
Just like Asiatic garlic, Turban garlic grows very fast. But with larger cloves, usually five to eight per bulb.
Turban garlic is also short keeping. When mature, its skin peels off, especially if left in the ground too long. And this shortens its keeping time even further.
In appearance, Creole garlic is among the best looking. It has a striking rose-colored skin with a small bulb.
It’s also highly adaptable and can tolerate harsh growing conditions like drought.
Although small, the creole red is probably the best option for growing in the US. It keeps very well, and its unique appearance makes it a favorite in farmers’ markets and stores.
What about Elephant Garlic?
Finally, no article about garlic is complete without touching on Elephant garlic
It grows in huge bulbs (sometimes weighing up to one pound each) with four to six cloves.
Elephant garlic is popular for its size and mild flavor, similar to that of softneck garlic. It’s ideal for individuals who may not always enjoy or tolerate garlic.
The sizable cloves are easy to peel, making them a welcome choice for many cooks. Additionally, the mild oniony flavor makes them great for roasting, making sauces, stir-fries, or vinaigrettes.
Unfortunately, their size also makes it harder for them to grow in cold areas.
Which Type of Garlic is Best?
Two key factors determine the best variety to grow in your home garden:
- The climate in your area
- Your personal taste
Softneck varieties do well in warmer climates with no hard freezes over winter. Hardnecks are hardier and can tolerate colder conditions.
If you want a longer supply of fresh garlic, even after harvesting, Porcelain is your best option. They are the most reliable and longest storing hardneck variety.
But if you are keener on taste, you cannot go wrong with Rocambole. This is said to have the best flavor of any garlic. But remember it requires warm, dry weather to thrive.
That said, within every garlic subtype, there are dozens of varieties. Some of which have never been classified by commercial growers. And among these, you might find varieties better suited to you and your area.
Be sure to regrow unique strains and the best producers in your area. Eventually, you will end up with a strain that perfectly suits your preference and growing conditions.