Variety and Cultivar


Each garlic variety has subtle flavor differences, raw heat characteristics, harvest dates, bulb and leaf appearances, clove characteristics, and storage lengths. The most important characteristic of any garlic, beyond taste, is its storage quality. There are long, medium, and short term storage varieties, and you should grow some of each. Optimum storage conditions are required for the longest storage of any variety. Be aware that some long-storing garlic may dry rot while other bulbs of the same variety will store perfectly. Garlic is very sensitive to environmental conditions and is quite polymorphic. A striped garlic in my location might be almost white in yours. Winter and summer temperatures can strongly affect raw heat qualities. Moisture levels and stress in the field will also affect taste, storage and visual characteristics.


Allium sativum sativum 
softneck 
Artichoke
Named for the artichoke-like layering of cloves, they are a favorite among commercial growers for their large size and no-fuss growing (curing is another matter, however). Softneck garlic will not produce a scape, but can be used for braiding. You may have seen these at your grocer, with a white or buff- colored, coarse wrapper. The bulbs are irregularly shaped, with tightly-skinned, large exterior cloves and smaller interior cloves.   With about ten to 18 large or medium cloves per bulb, one pound of artichoke bulbs may produce 80 to 100 plants. The smallest, interior cloves can be eaten or sowed for spring garlic greens. Early-mid season harvest. Stores into winter when well-grown and properly cured. Artichokes can be sweet when eaten raw, hot or not hot at all, and are generally have a light-bodied garlic flavor.

Silverskin
Silverskin varieties are also found at the grocery store thanks to their long storage life and large yields, but are much less common than artichoke strains. Common to California fields, this variety can also be grown in cooler, northern climates. Like all softneck garlic, these do not produce a scape, and is often used for braiding. Silverskin garlic has tight, smooth, white or buff-colored wrappers and often has pink clove skins.  Bulbs can have two to three layers of cloves, with a 12 to 20 small or medium-sized cloves per bulb. One pound of silverskin garlic produces 70 to 80 plants. The smallest, interior cloves can be eaten or sowed for spring garlic greens. Late harvest. Silverskin strains are my longest storing, with individual bulbs holding out from sprouting or desiccating through May. Often very hot raw, you'll be thankful to have it long after all other garlic varieties are gone.



Allium sativum ophioscorodon 
weakly-bolting hardneck or bolting softneck
Asiatic
An artichoke variety that typically produces a hardneck scape. The scape's 'beak' is wrinkled and the longest of all varieties. Asiatic garlic has white wrappers, sometimes with purple blotches and stripes. The bulbs have 7 to 11 cloves that are large and firm, forming a ring around the stalk. One pound produces 40 to 60 plants. They are early maturing and need to be harvested just as soon as the leaves begin to turn brown. Waiting until the leaves flop over will lead to open wrappers and shorter storage life. Early harvest. Stores into autumn. Often quite hot raw, Asiatic strains can be mild or richly-flavored when cooked. I find the strain 'Japanese' (or 'Sakura') to have the floral essence of honey when roasted.

Turban
Turban garlic is similar to the Asiatic variety, usually producing a scape, with a wrinkled 'beak'. This variety contains some of the most beautiful culitvars, with wrappers that are purple and mauve splotched or striped over white. Six to eight large cloves form a ring around the center stalk. There are few or no inner cloves. One pound produces 35 to 45 plants. Earliest harvest, first to cure, you'll want to eat these sooner than later. Stores only into October primarily because it is eager to sprout. As the first cured garlic of the season, it's fresh, vegetal flavor is eagerly awaited. Mild to medium heat when eaten raw.

Creole
Creole garlic is a partially-bolting Silverskin variety. Initially bred by Spaniards in the old world, they are known as warm-climate garlic, but may do well in the coastal Mid-Atlantic in well-drained soils. Creole offers strikingly beautiful, deep rose or burgundy red clove skins underneath white or buff bulb wrappers. The bulbs tend to be much smaller than most other varieties, each head producing 8 to 12 medium-sized cloves around a central stem. One pound may produce 60 to 70 plants. Later harvest. Small, well-grown bulbs may store into spring. Creole strains are richly-flavored, sweet, and your go to variety after the Rocambole and Purple Stripe strains have long been eaten.



Allium sativum ophioscorodon 
hardneck
Rocambole
A well-known, but hard-to-find hardneck garlic. Rocambole is preferred by chefs for its full-bodied flavor and easy peel cloves. Excellent dehydrated for great garlic powder. Broad leafed plant with tightly-looped scape. Thin bulb wrappers are often buff-colored with tinge of purple, with loose clove skins tawny to brown. Six to 9 large, often double cloves generally form a single layer around the stem, with occasional small inner cloves.  Bulbs produce 35 to 45 plants per pound. Requires a cold winter. Mid-season harvest. Stores into autumn. Rocambole strains are sweet with some raw heat and indisputably have the richest, most savory garlic flavor. 

Porcelain
The strongest grower, with great tasting, large, easy to peel cloves.  A favorite among New York farmers, Porcelain garlic forms a loosely looping scape. Bulb wrappers are tight, satiny white, and sometimes with a pink blush. Porcelain bulbs can be quite large, with four to six extra large, rose to brown skinned cloves per bulb. Expect 25 to 35 plants per pound. Mid-season harvest. Stores into early winter. Porcelain strains have juicy, hot cloves when eaten raw, classic garlic flavor and sweet, starchy cloves when roasted.

Purple Stripe
Known for holding its garlic flavor in baking, vividly purple-striped wrappers, and easy peel cloves. Scapes make 3/4 turns before straightening. Most cultivars have 8 to 12, crescent-shaped, mauve brown cloves per bulb. Can produce 60 to 70 plants per pound. Mid-season harvest. Stores late autumn to winter. The Purple Stripe strains are your go to garlic after you've run out of Rocambole. Richly flavored and sweet when cooked.

Marbled Purple Stripe
Similar to Purple Stripe, these have deep purple-blotched wrappers and easy peel cloves. Most cultivars have 6 to 8, magenta-purple skinned cloves per bulb. Can produce 35 to 45 plants per pound. Mid-season harvest. Stores to winter. Treat the Marbled Purple Stripe strains as you do the Purple Stripe. Strains have rich, sweet flavor when cooked but some are powerfully hot when eaten raw.



A Brief Explanation of Botanical Nomenclature

Allium sativum is the genus and species wrapped up into one name. Allium is Latin for 'garlic,' but generally refers to all garlic and onions. Sativum simply means 'cultivated' in Latin, so that Allium sativum means 'culitvated garlic.' To shorten things, we sometimes write A. sativum

After A. sativum we find the different groups (some say subspecies or subgroups). The first group is called 'softneck', but is known botanically as sativum (A. sativum sativum). The second group is called 'hardneck,' or ophioscorodon (A. sativum ophioscorodon). Within these two groups there are generally agreed to be 9 or 10 varieties. 

Among these 9 or 10 genetically distinct varieties, there are possibly a couple of hundred cultivated varieties, which we call 'cultivars,' strains, or 'cultigens.' The cultivar describes those varieties that have been selected and bred by people for certain characteristics over several years, and it is presented in quotation marks at the end of the botanical name.

Many of the named cultivars have recently been proven to be genetically identical, so that Allium sativum ophioscorodon var. Rocambole "German Red" may be genetically identical to A. sativum ophioscorodon var. Rocambole "Spanish Roja" or "Italian Purple." That said, A. sativum is also known to change characteristics in different climates or locations.