The various cultivars of garlic are classified into ten horticultural groups: Artichoke, Asiatic, Creole,
Glazed Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Standard Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Silverskin, and Turban. Each horticultural group and each cultivar within the group has particular characteristics.
Some groups are classified as hardnecks as they have a woody stem that grows through the centre of the plant and produces a scape. Scapes produce an umbel at the top that contains bulbils, which are miniature clones of the parent plant. Scapes are often harvested before they start to produce bulbils and are a delicious first taste of garlic each summer. They can be pickled, made into pesto, used in cooking, especially stir-fries or simply steamed like asparagus.
Other groups are classified as Softnecks, as they do not produce a scape. The softnecks are often
Most of the garlic you see in stores in of the Artichoke group, which is classified as a softneck garlic. They have a long storage time and are usually among the earliest to harvest. The cloves are arranged in layers similar to an artichoke. Artichoke garlic can have 10-15 cloves per bulb. The flavour is mild at harvest but gets hotter with storage.
Asiatics are a hardneck garlic. The leaves on these garlics are typically lighter green and smaller. The bulbs get to a good size and keep well. The flavours can range from mild and sweet to very hot. Heat can range from radish-like to wasabi intensity. The bulbs contain 6-8 cloves on average.
These garlics originate in Spain and the surrounding area. While classified as a hardneck, the scapes are very slender and weak. They typically have white bulb wrappers and attractive pink or red clove wrappers. The bulbs tend to size up well. While Creoles are generally flavourful and mild, some can be quite hot. Bulbs usually average around 10 cloves and will store exceptionally well up to 6-8 months.
GLAZED PURPLE STRIPE
Glazed Purple Stripes are a hardneck garlic. They mature a bit earlier than the other Purple Stripes. The bulb wrappers are purple with a light golden sheen. The wrappers are very thin and tolerate higher humidity. Glazed Purple Stripes generally have 8-10 cloves per bulb.
MARBLED PURPLE STRIPE
This hardneck garlic is tall and sturdy with wide leaves. These garlics often produce quite large bulbs. They have excellent flavour, ranging from medium hot to very hot when raw and taste sweet when sautéed or grilled. Marbled Purple Stripes are dependable and generally easy to grow. They average 6-8 cloves per bulb. They will store up to six months or slightly longer.
Purple Stripes are the group from which all other domesticated garlics are descended. Being cultivated for thousands of years, they spread to different parts of Asia and Europe, adapting to the locale and producing the various types of garlic we have today. Bulbs generally have 8-12 cloves and store well. Having a large number of cloves, the cloves tend to be a bit smaller, which some cooks like, as they may not want a lot of garlic for a particular recipe. A great garlic for roasting; it has a sweet flavour when roasted.
These hardneck garlics are tall plants with wide, dark leaves and scapes that can reach 6 feet in height when they uncoil. Many of the cultivars originated in Eastern Europe. The bulb wrappers are generally white, hence the name porcelain. Some wrappers may have some purple striping or toning. Porcelains tend to be hot and have lasting flavour. They generally have 4-6 cloves per bulb, which means large cloves, nice for roasting as well as a favourite for those who like lots of garlic with little peeling. Porcelains will usually store for 7-8 months.
Another hardneck, Rocamboles are prized for their rich and complex flavour, which is best enjoyed soon after harvest. The clove wrappers are loose, easy to peel but that means a short storage life, usually 4-5 months. They generally have 8-12 cloves per bulb.
Silverskins are similar to Artichoke garlics, in that the bulb is formed in layers. While they sometimes produce a scape, they are softnecks and are often used for making braids. They are usually hot and aggressive in flavour. These garlics will have at least 12-14 cloves per bulb. Properly stored they can last up to a year.
Turban garlics, also hardnecks, although weakly bolting, are the earliest to emerge and the first to
harvest. They come from the Orient and tend to have an immediate hot taste – great for those who love hot garlic and are not too concerned about flavour. They generally have 6-10 cloves and store for 6-7 months.
There are always cultivars we come across that have not been genetically tested or do not fit well into the recognized categories. As we acquire cultivars that are not categorized we continue to research to try and categorize these cultivars, but we will probably always have some that remain a mystery.