Growing gourmet garlic can be difficult in some regions due to a relatively short growing season. Turban garlic cultivars are subsequently a great solution for growers in this predicament. One of the earliest garlics to be harvested, Turbans are also a great option for growers looking to extend their market season. Turbans have a very diverse source history, with strains originating in China, the Former Soviet Union, and even Mexico. Remarkably, although they come from different regions, the various cultivars remain strikingly similar. Several cultivars you may find locally include Xian, Red Janice, and Sonoran.
In contrast to other hardneck varieties, Turban garlics require only a short dormancy period before they begin to sprout. This trait is more commonly seen in softneck varieties, and interestingly, the Turban cultivars tend to be very weak bolters, sometimes not producing scapes at all. Scapes, when produced by this type of garlic do not curl like the more strongly-bolting types, but simply droop. They also do not need to be removed prior to harvest, as their presence does not seem to negatively impact overall blub size. The umbel topping the scape is short and characteristically ‘turban’-shaped, holding between 30 and 100 small to medium-sized bulbils.
Turban garlic plants tend to be short with moderately-sized, medium-green leaves. If you are growing Turbans, it is important to pay attention to the color of these leaves since, like Asiatic varieties, they mature early and must be harvested when only one of the leaves has gone brown. This quick maturity is accelerated in hotter climates, and delayed harvesting can result in bulb wrappers that have deteriorated and split. Unusually for garlic, the leaves and stalk will fall over as they mature, similar to onion plants. The garlic should be harvested before this happens, since it indicates that the bulbs are over-mature.
Turban cultivars tend to produce large, plump bulbs. The outer wrappers are colorful, a bright white covered in vibrant purple striping or marbling. The clove skins are less dramatic in color, ranging from tan to dusky pink, with the odd purple spot or markings. Cloves form a single layer around the central stalk and vary from slim to plump, but are all curved, giving the bulbs their rounded shape. Turbans average approximately five to seven cloves per bulb.
The flavor of Turban garlics is not as highly-regarded as some other types, especially Rocamboles. In comparison, the flavor of Turban cultivars tends to be lacking in complexity. Most tend to be quite hot when raw, but become milder and sweeter with cooking. They can become so mild, in fact, that they are used as a vegetable in their own right in some Chinese cuisine. Pungency tends to vary between cultivars, but all tend to have a somewhat rich, musky taste. Their heat can be a bit deceptive, with the burn of some cultivars hitting right away, and others slowly building up over a number of seconds.
Turban garlics tend to have a short storage life, roughly three to five months. This, combined with their modest flavor profile can dampen a grower’s enthusiasm. In my opinion, however, they are worth looking into, especially if you want to extend your garlic eating and growing season!