There are a few varieties of garlic..
Soft Neck Garlic
Softneck garlic is the type you’ll most likely see in your local grocery store. Its name comes from the multi-layered parchment that covers the entire bulb and goes up the neck of the bulb, and forms a soft, pliable stalk. They use the soft-necks for braiding. Its a papery skin, or sheath, is a beautiful off white color. Soft-neck garlic typically has several layers of cloves surrounding the central portion of the garlic bulb. The outer most layer’s cloves are the stoutest; the cloves of the inner layers become smaller as you get closer to the center of the bulb.
This is a beginners garlic as it is easier growing variety that has a strong flavor and stores well when dried, if it is properly dried and stored it will last nearly a year under the right conditions. The Creole group of Silverskin garlics has a rose colored parchment.
Artichoke garlic has more of a milder flavor and may have fewer but larger cloves than silverskin garlic. An artichoke garlic can be stored up to as long as eight months. Artichoke garlic may have purple spots or streaks on its skin, but don’t confuse it with purple stripe garlic, a hardneck variety that has a bit of purple coloring.
Unlike the softneck garlic, hardneck varieties do not have a plaible stalk. When you buy this type of garlic, it will typically have an extremely hard stalk protruding about an inch or two from the top of the bulb. Hardneck garlic sends up greens called scapes from its central woody stalk when it is growing. A scape is a thin green extension of the stalk that forms a 360-degree curl with a small bulbil, or swelling, not far from its end. Inside the bulbil are more than 100 tiny cloves of garlic that are genetically identical to the parent bulb beneath. Most people call these garlic flowers, but they are not really flowers. If left on the plant, the scape will eventually die and fall over, and the tiny cloves will spill onto the ground. However, most never make it that far. As most people harvest the scapes. Cutting off the scapes keeps the plant’s energy from forming the bulbil and therefore will inturn make a larger bulbs. The scapes can be a delicious ingredient in your cooking.
There are three main types of hardneck garlic:
Rocambole: This variety has a rich, full-bodied taste. It peels easily and typically has just one set of cloves around the woody stalk. It usually keeps for around six months.
Porcelain: Porcelain garlic is similar to rocambole in flavor and typically contains about four or so large cloves wrapped in a smooth, white, papery sheath. People often mistake porcelain garlic for elephant garlic because its cloves are so large. Porcelain garlic stores for around eight months.
Purple stripe: This hardneck variety is famous for being considered the best baking garlic. There are several types of purple stripe, all have the distinctive purple streaks on their papery sheaths. Purple stripe garlic keeps for around six months.
Another member of the Allium clan, elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), it may look like a good bargain because it is so large, but its flavor is very plain and bland. Its garlic flavor is slim to none and its healing properties are nothing compared to those of other garlic. Elephant garlic is used more like a vegetable than a flavorful herb.
Once you’ve decided which variety of garlic is correct for your dish, here are some helpful tips to pick out that perfect bulb:
- Select a bulb that is completely dry.
- Choose a bulb where the cloves are big and firm.
- Look for plenty of sheathing.
- Avoid softness, crumbly cloves, squeeze, shriveled cloves, bulbs or cloves with green shoots as they are past their freshness
Now that you know what the types of garlic there are you can now match them to your needs and pick out the fresher cloves or bulbs.