Now that we’ve got harvesting, trimming and curing under control for the season, I’ll return to discussing the various types of garlic. In this post, I’ll take a closer look at the Asiatic variety. Asiatic garlic tends to mature earlier than other types, making it an excellent addition to any garlic-lovers’ garden, or a good choice for growers who want to make the most of early market sales. Although not as popular as certain types, such as Rocamboles and Porcelains, and thus not as readily available, some popular Asiatic cultivars that you may find locally include ‘Sakura’, ‘Pyongyang’ and ‘Asian Tempest’.
In my experience, Asiatics are generally easy growers. The plants tend to be rather squat, with their broad, yellowish-green leaves drooping softly away from the central stem. Asiatics produce a scape, like all hardneck varieties, however, the umbels have a very distinctive elongated appearance. These umbels contain few bulbils, usually less than ten, but what they lack in number they more than make for in size. The huge bulbils are a great way to increase your planting stock, as you can often get a differentiated, albeit small, bulb in the first year or two.
The scapes on Asiatic garlics do not curl tightly like many other hardneck types, but do so in a rather lazy curl. Also unlike other hardnecks, the scapes of Asiatic cultivars do not need to be cut prior to harvest, since removing them has no significant effect on final bulb size.
In general, Asiatics mature significantly faster than other garlic types. Often, they are ready to harvest up to several weeks ahead of other varieties, making them a good option for both green and early market sales. They can also help you to resist the temptation to harvest and eat your other bulbs too soon! The early maturity of Asiatics means that the plants have to be watched carefully, and harvested when only a single leaf has gone brown. If they are left in the ground any longer than this, the outer skins, which tend to be quite fragile, become prone to splitting.
The appearance of Asiatics can vary significantly between cultivars. Sakura, for example, has white bulb wrappers and a somewhat squat shape, while others such as Asian Tempest and Pyongyang, have a smooth, slightly flattened teardrop shape and degrees of purple striping. Cloves skins also vary between cultivars, ranging through pale purple-gold to violet-rose, to dark purple. The number of cloves also varies, with bulbs containing from four to ten cloves arranged in a single layer around the central stalk. The cloves of most cultivars tend to be elongated and curved, however, the cloves of Sakura are comparatively stocky and fat.
The taste between Asiatic cultivars is as varied as their appearance. When raw, they can exhibit a heat that ranges from the mild to the intense. Strength of flavor also diverges from a delicate mild garlic taste to those that are increasingly flavorful and robust. These differences aside, all Asiatic garlics have in common a rich, rounded flavor that tends to become even more developed with cooking. So, although these cultivars may be more difficult to find than Rocamboles and Porcelains, their flavor – and the fact that they have a storage life of four to six months – makes them definitely worth keeping an eye out for!