A Guide to Garlic

December 20, 2012

Think garlic is garlic? Think again! Here's the SupermarketGuru guide to the types and varieties of garlic available

Everyone has heard that garlic has many health benefits; each clove is full of health-protective nutrients, including manganese, vitamins C and B6, and garlic is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may contribute to heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. It also contains prebiotics which are beneficial for gut health. But did you know there are many different varieties of garlic to choose from? There are so many varieties with different flavors ranging from sweet and mild to very hot and spicy and thanks to the gourmetgarlicgardens we have put together a simplified list from their overview of the five varieties and seventeen sub varieties of garlic:

Porcelains (ophios) are among the most beautiful garlics. Their bulb wrappers tend to be very thick, luxuriant and parchment-like and tightly cover their few, but large, cloves - typically only five per bulb. They are generally strong tasting, with a few exceptions and can store for up to eight to ten months or more at cool room temperature. 

Rocamboles tend to have thinner bulb wrappers and lots of purple striping and splotches. They are not as white as other ophios and seem to have a brownish cast to them, in fact, some of them almost look as though they need a bath. What they lack in beauty, they make up for in taste. Many people consider them their favorite garlics - they are very, very flavorful and most of them very hot.
They have usually eight to ten cloves arranged in circular fashion about a central scape and have few or no smaller internal cloves.
Their primary drawback is that they are among the shorter storing garlics.

Purple Stripe: 
Purple Stripes are ophios (hardnecks) and are usually vividly striped with purplish vertical stripes decorating the bulb wrappers, hence their name. In between the purple stripes, their bulb wrappers are usually very white and thick. Some sub-varieties are even heavily splotched with purple.
They tend to be rather rich in flavor, but not overly pungent, though some are milder, and store fairly well. Standard Purple Stripes (Chesnok Red and Persian Star) make the sweetest roasted garlic. 
In addition to the standard purple stripes, there are two other groups of Purple Stripe varieties, the glazed group and the marbled group - they range from the very strong, such as Metechi or Skuri #2 or very mild, such as Siberian. Persian Star and Chesnok Red have a rich medium flavor.

Artichoke garlics (sativums or softnecks) are the kinds of garlics seen most in the supermarkets in our part of the country. California Early and California Late are grown in huge quantities around Gilroy, California and shipped all over the country and are the generic garlic that most people think of when they think of garlic. They have lots of cloves, usually somewhere between 12 and 20, with lots of smaller internal cloves. 
Artichokes are generally very large, store well and have a wide range of flavors with some, like Simoneti and Red Toch, being very mild and pleasant and others, such as Inchelium Red and Susanville, have greater depth of flavor. Chinese Purple and Purple Cauldron are much stronger. The Turban group of artichoke garlics tend to be the most colorful artichokes and have fewer cloves per bulb than the others. The turbans also harvest earlier and store less long than the other artichokes and a good bit stronger in taste as well. 
Artichoke Garlics are the commercial growers favorite because they are easier to grow and produce larger bulbs that most other garlics. Artichokes are often called red garlics or Italian garlics despite the fact that most are neither red nor were ever grown in Italy. 

Silverskins are usually, but not always, the ones that you see in braids. Silverskins are generally the longest storing of all garlics and have a soft pliable neck that lends itself to braiding and holds up over time better than the artichokes whose necks tend to deteriorate. They are usually fairly hot, strong garlics with very few cultivars being mild. They have more cloves per bulb, on the average, than the artichokes but are not nearly as large.

Creoles are a unique and truly beautiful group of garlics. They are like a mix of hardneck and softneck - as are the Asiatic and Turban varieties. They are amongst the easiest eating raw garlics with a rich, full taste but are only very moderate pungent, though Creole Red is noticeably stronger and Ajo Rojo is a very hot garlic. They have eight to twelve cloves per bulb and the bulb wrappers and the clove covers have a beautiful vivid rose color. 

They are short storing garlics as most don't last more than 5 months at room temperature before sprouting. Asiatics have rather white bulb wrappers which can be thick and parchment-like and straw-colored clove covers and have eight to ten fat cloves with no tiny internal cloves. 

Like Asiatics, Turbans are short storing garlics. They usually have lots of color in their bulb wrappers and brownish clove covers and only five or so huge cloves with no tiny ones. 

The Garlic Which is Not Garlic - Elephant Garlic:
Elephant garlic is actually from the leek family and can store for about a year at room temperature. Large elephant garlic is about twice the size of the largest real garlics or larger and has a milder taste but with a sharp onion-like edge and a distinctive aftertaste. They average five very large cloves that are somewhat yellowish compared the milky whiteness of true garlic cloves. 
Elephant garlic stores very hard and clean much longer than real garlic, even when separated into individual cloves.

And by the way, if you are worried about garlic breath, SupermarketGuru's tip is to eat slowly and chew thoroughly which will help to elimate garlic breath in the first place.