The Many Varieties...and Flavors...of Garlic
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor University of Vermont
Unless you already grow garlic, you likely just know it from the cloves found in
grocery stores, containers there of crushed garlic, or perhaps braids of garlic at
Even if you grow garlic already, you may not realize there are 11 types with
various named selections of each. These vary more than you might think in
flavor. The different types are each best suited to growing in particular
climates. All the types though are suited for the most common use of cooking,
as well as the medicinal and other uses you may not realize.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is commonly divided into two main varieties or
subspecies, the hardneck (ophioscorodon) and softneck (sativum). These are
based on the fact that the former develop a stiff stalk from the cloves in the
ground, topped by mini aerial cloves called "bulbils".
This process is often called "bolting". Since garlic varieties are actually sterile
clones, they develop these bulbs instead of flowers. Softneck types generally
don't produce this "flower" stalk. Sometimes these designations don't hold in
reality, the stalks developing or not with different seasons, climates, and
cultivars (cultivated varieties).
The hardneck garlics were the original selections that evolved from wild garlic.
Compared to the softneck types, they often have fewer but larger cloves, are
more colorful, and come in a wide range of flavors. They grow well in northern
climates, so are often the types seen. Even though they produce a stalk, this
should be removed so all the plant energy goes back into producing the cloves.
Cut or snap off when sunny so the wound will heal quickly. You can cut up and
use the stalk, if harvested when young and tender, for cooking.
On the other hand, the softneck types were selected originally from the
hardnecks. They are sometimes known as "braiding" garlic, since these are the
ones easily tied into braids. They have smaller cloves than the hardnecks, and
produce up to twice as many per plant. Cloves often have a spicy flavor, and
may be hard to peel. Since they mature faster than hardnecks, are adaptable to
many climates, and don't have flower stalks to remove, they are the preferred
types grown commercially and that you usually see in grocery stores.
There are 11 general groupings, or "types", among the hardneck and softneck,
which in turn have their own specific selections or "cultivars".
For the hardneck types you may see Asiatic, Creole, Glazed Purple Stripe,
Marbled Purple Stripe, Middle Eastern, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Rocambole,
and Turban. The Asiatic, Creole, and Turban are weakly bolting. For the
Softneck types you may see Artichoke and Silverskin cultivars.
Artichoke softneck cultivars such as 'California Early' and 'Red Toch' are the
main ones seen in stores. They are ready to harvest earlier in the season, and
adapt to many growing conditions and soil types. Cloves tend to be large with
a flattened appearance.
Asiatic hardneck cultivars such as 'Asian Tempest' and 'Pyongyang' (this and
some other cultivars originally came from Korea) have good flavor and store
well. They may be recognized by their "flower" that resembles a long, dark and
wrinkled bean pod. The aerial cloves within it actually can grow new plants
when planted. This hardneck doesn't need the stalk removed in order to
produce new cloves.
Creole hardneck cultivars such as 'Creole Red' and 'Burgundy' are, as their
name might suggest, better suited to warm climates. Cloves are a moderate size,
have good flavor, store well, and often are beautiful shades of reds and purples.
Glazed Purple Stripe hardneck cultivars such as 'Vekak' and 'Red Rezan'
mostly came to us from Eastern Europe and Russia. The few, squat cloves are
well-named having a metallic appearance, purple streaked silver. Flavors may
not be as strong as in other types.
Marbled Purple Stripe hardneck cultivars such as 'Metechi' and 'Siberian' too
came originally mostly from Eastern Europe and Russia. They tend to adapt
both to northern and southern conditions, the few and larger cloves being
marbled with purple. They store well, cloves peel easily, and they have a
Middle Eastern hardneck cultivars such as 'Jomah' and 'Syrian' come from the
Middle Eastern countries, and are not commonly found as they are best suited
to these climates rather than North America.
Porcelain hardneck cultivars such as 'German White' and 'Polish Hardneck', on
the other hand, are commonly seen across the northern latitudes. Cloves tend to
be hot and pungent when eaten raw, starchy after baking. The skins are thick
and tightly cover the few, large cloves. Outer skin layers are white, with some
purple stripes on inner layers. They store well.
Purple Stripe hardneck cultivars such as 'Shatili' and 'Shvelisi' or 'Chesnok Red'
come, as the names indicate, from the Caucasus area and the Republic of
Georgia. They can be vividly purple striped, or more silvery, depending on the
weather. Cloves often have a rich, not too strong, flavor and they store relatively
well. They were the ancestors of other garlic types.
Rocambole hardneck cultivars such as 'Russian Red' and 'Spanish Roja' are
some of the most popular and flavorful garlics for home growing. Cloves have
rich, sweet, and complex flavors and tend to be brownish. The stalks or scapes
are unique in forming a double loop on top. Unfortunately, this type of garlic
stores well for only a short time.
Silverskin softneck cultivars such as 'Idaho Silver' and 'Silver White' are the
ones you usually see braided, having a pliable stem. They are the longest
storing cultivars usually, and often fairly strong. Cloves tend to be white, small,
teardrop shaped, and often are late to sprout.
Turban hardneck cultivars such as 'Chinese Purple' and 'Shandong' come from
a variety of areas, from Eastern Europe to the Far East to Mexico. They are not
as common as some other types, have brownish to purplish cloves, and often
sprout early and store poorly. The capsule on the top of the stalk is shaped like
a turban, hence the name. Cloves tend to taste hot when raw, mild when
cooked, and some call them the "summer apple" of the garlic world.
Look for some of these varieties at local farm stands and farmers markets.
Check local garden stores for some of the better cultivars for your area and try
growing some yourself. Garlic is about a 9-month crop, planting cloves in the
north in October for harvesting mid-summer the following year.