The Language of Garlic

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

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.

Rocamboles come in a variety of colors; all send up double-looped scapes. Famed for their strong, rich flavor, rocamboles produce six to 11 cloves that are easy to peel but do not store well. They grow best in climates with cold winters and cool springs.

Make Garlic Powder

When great garlic begins to go soft in storage, it’s time to make garlic powder cloves. Cut them into thin slices and then dry them in a skillet in a 150-degree turning often. Grind the dried slices in a blender, and then sift the material strainer to separate the chunks (great for pizza) from the finer powder, which you can use on any food that can benefit from a concentrated shot of garlic flavor. Store garlic powder in airtight jars in a cool place, or freeze for long-term storage.

Watch Out for White Rot

White rot, caused by Sclerotium cepivorum, is a garlic disease affecting mostly large commercial growers on the West Coast. Once introduced into a field, the white may survive for 20 to 30 years.

Unlike potatoes, there are no standards or certification processes for garlic. Experts recommend buying your initial seed stock from a small local grower. Ask hard questions first of whoever you are buying from about any disease; be picky about what you receive, says Dorene Pasekoff, a longtime organic garlic grower in Pennsylvania. Inspect the bulbs when you receive them. If they look rotten, let the grower know and reject them. White rot symptoms include white, cottony growth on the clove cover and poppy seed-sized black marks on and in the bulb.

Garlic Sources

Bobba-Mike s Gourmet Garlic
Orrville, Ohio

Cornerstone Garlic Farm
Reidsville, N.C.

Filaree Farm
Okanogan, Wash. 

G & H Garlic Farm
Littleton, N.H.

Girardin Gourmet Gardens
Randolph, Minn.

Gourmet Garlic Gardens
Bangs, Texas

Seed Savers Exchange
Decorah, Iowa