The Language of Garlic

Understand the language of garlic and you'll understand how to grow a great crop.

  • Garlic
    Garlic has a complex taste that can compliment a variety of meals.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

  • Garlic

The Language of Garlic

Garlic includes two subspecies softneck and hardneck. Many subdivisions and some crossovers exist between these two groups. In the interest of practical simplicity, we have divided each subspecies into three primary groups.

Softneck Types (Allium Sativum sativum)

Artichokes and silverskins the familiar grocery store garlic. Large bulbs are composed of 12 to 20 cloves, with the largest cloves on the outside of the bulbs. Most don't send up seed scapes, though a few sometimes do. Cured bulbs store up to a year and are great for braiding. Artichokes grow best in mild winter areas.

Creoles have fewer, larger cloves, with deep burgundy or silver skins. Their flavor is full-bodied and moderately spicy. The plants often produce weak scapes, and the bulbs store well. Creoles grow best where winters are mild and summers are hot.

Asiatics and turbans are considered softnecks, though they often develop a scape typical of hardnecks but weaker in structure. Early maturing with a uniquely sweet and hot flavor, these must be harvested promptly and have a short storage life adapt to a wide range of climates.

Hardneck Types (Allium Sativum opioscorodon)

Porcelain varieties, sometimes called continentals, have thick, parchment-like wrappers covering four to six large cloves with complex flavors that hold up well when cooked. Plants develop curled scapes. Mature bulbs store better than rocamboles. Porcelains grow best in cold climates.

Purple stripes develop curled scapes and eight to 12 medium-sized cloves, with purple stripes and blotches on clove skins and wrappers. Easy to peel and great for baking, purple stripes longer than rocamboles. They grow best in cold climates.

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