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Garlic Cultivars

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There are thousands of different garlic cultivars in the world. Below are some of the most common that I have encountered or varieties that I have grown myself as a garlic grower. They are hardneck garlic and they all belong to different families i.e. Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe

  • Music

  • Ivan

  • Duganski

  • German Mennonite

  • Russian Red

  • Red Russian

  • Romanian Red

  • Siberian Red

  • French Pink

  • Continental

  • Northumberland

  • Fisher Lake

  • Ukrainian Red

These varieties of garlic originate from different parts of the world and offer different heat intensities, personalities and flavour profiles. Garlic is like wine grapes; they taste different and different garlic works differently when cooked with specific foods or cooking methods.

Most Ontario (Canada) supermarket garlic bought during the winter to mid-summer months are garlic imported from China or Spain. This store-bought garlic can be substituted with any of these locally grown heirloom garlic varieties in your recipes.

Garlic is classified under are two main types of garlic: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.

Hardneck garlic is more pungent in flavour, the cloves are larger, and it produces a scape – a flower bud & stalk, a delicacy in many cuisines. Softneck garlic is the most common type of garlic sold at grocery stores as it has a longer shelf life. Its softer, papery-thin skins have smaller cloves growing within the outer ring of larger cloves. This makes softneck garlic harder to peel than hardneck garlic. Its flavour tends to be less pungent or less spicy than hardneck garlic.

In addition to hardneck and softneck garlic varieties, there are also different parts of the garlic plant that you can eat, such as the scape and garlic leaves also known as garlic greens.  We will review the different types of garlic, their best uses in the kitchen and their respective taste profiles in a later chapter.

 

There are two subspecies of garlic: hardnecked garlic (Ophioscorodon, ophios for short) and softnecked garlic (sativum).

Many garlic varieties are genetically very similar. We can safely say some of them are somewhat clones, e.g. Music grown in one town may test genetically the same as another Music from halfway across the country with slight variance, as the environment can affect its appearance. This can lead growers to believe that they have discovered a new variety. Garlic often has whimsical names because the different types are named after the places they were first discovered or named after the garlic grower.

Most of the garlic varieties we grow now come from the Caucasus mountain range between Russia and Georgia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, many botanist researchers invited to explore Central Asia and Eastern Europe, have discovered many varieties of garlic unknown to the West.

John Swenson, a lawyer-turned-amateur-allium-botanist, was profiled in the Chicago Tribune in 1990 for his trip to the Soviet Union. He and a group of researchers collected garlic over an 8,000 miles span.

Thirty years ago, Swenson said, “Who knows what genetic diversity there is? There’s been virtually no research done on garlic.” Today, with modern-day genetic testing and dedicated researchers who spend time cultivating garlic, we understand garlic’s genetic diversity and how environmental conditions can change it.

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Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic produces larger bulbs and larger & fewer cloves. Each hardneck bulb can produce between 4 - 9 cloves, compared to softneck garlic, which can produce 10 - 30 cloves.

Hardneck Varieties

Hardnecks are split into the 5 “true” hardnecks:

  • Porcelain – Music, Ivan, German Mennonite, Northumberland

  • Rocambole – Russian Red, Korean Red, Spanish Roja

  • Purple Stripe – Duganski, Chesnook Red, Italian Purple, Persian Star, Rasa Rosa, Tibetan

  • Marbled Purple Stripe – Nordic, Crème de la Rasa, Purple Russian, Red Russian, Rocky Red, Siberian

  • Glazed Purple Stripe – Oregan, Red Rezan

Porcelain Garlic

The Porcelain Garlic family is the most popular group grown in Canada. It is predominantly found in Eastern Canada and the colder regions in the Prairie provinces. Porcelain is very hardy and it produces large sized bulbs with great flavour. This makes it the most popular variety. Their growth is so vigorous during spring, they practically explode from the ground and send up plants with large & thick wide-spreading leaves.

 

The bulbs usually produce between 4 to 6 large cloves that are easy to peel. Porcelain varieties also grow an extremely large scape that has been known to reach 6 feet in height in some areas. The umbel at the end of the scape contains anywhere from a few to hundreds of bulbils; tiny cloned garlic “seeds.” Growing garlic from these bulbils can be a challenge due to their size. It may take 3 to 5 years to size up the garlic bulbs that was originally grown from bulbils.

 

Removing the scape is very important for sizing up the garlic bulb. Porcelains are the most affected if the scapes are not removed – bulb size may be reduced by over 30%. Moisture is also required during the growing season for bulk size, especially after the scapes are removed. It is during this time that the bulbs will bulk up even more after removal, hence moisture is critical.

 

The bulbs store for about 8 - 9 months in proper storage – cool dry area with no temperature fluctuation. Their flavour complexity diminishes as they age.

 

Porcelain garlics are a favourite due to their large size, cold hardiness & consistently good flavour.

 

 

Rocambole Garlic

Rocambole garlic is a group of hardnecks that have been considered among the best tasting and usually the first choice by chefs and garlic lovers. It is also widely known and grown in Canada. Rocamboles have a deep, complex flavour that is often enjoyed raw and rarely disappoints garlic aficionados.

 

Rocambole garlic is cold hardy and it requires the cold weather to trigger larger bulb growth. Canadian weather is ideal for growing Rocamboles and it can produce some of the largest garlic bulbs.

 

Each bulb produces between 8 to 12 plump cloves that are easy to peel. The scapes form very tight and distinct coils. The umbel produces between 10 to 20 large bulbils. Like Porcelain, the removal of the scapes is critical for the bulbs to size up.

 

Rocamboles generally have a shorter storage life of 4 to 6 months, but their flavour is exceptional. The flavour intensity and spiciness vary widely between cultivars. In general, Rocamboles are finicky growers as they do not thrive well in wet conditions. But their exceptional taste and flavour in the kitchen makes growing them a worthwhile effort.

 

 

Purple Stripe Garlic

The Purple Stripe Garlic group is a very diverse group of hardnecks that has been considered to be the oldest and most genetically similar to the first garlics grown thousands of years ago. It is a strongly held belief that all garlic varieties started from this group. The bulbs have beautiful colouring with bright purple streaks on the skins and the cloves.

 

There is some confusion between this group and two other families - Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe. They are all genetically different from each other. These three groups have often been mistakenly grouped together due to the similarity of their name. They are genetically unique and are not related to each other than the group Rocamboles or Porcelains.

 

Purple Stripe are also cold hardy and require the cold temperature exposure in order to grow and bulk up their bulb size. Therefore, they are very suited for growing in the cold temperature of Canada or any place with colder climates. The bulbs produce 8 to 12 cloves long, large & crescent shaped cloves. The umbels produce a he amount of small to medium sized bulbils. Typical of hardneck, the scapes must be removed to bulk up the size of the bulbs.

 

Purple Stripe garlic has a very good storage life if store properly – about 8 to 9 months or longer. It has very good flavour and increases in intensity, complexity, and spiciness as it ages. It is also known for its roasting qualities.

 

Marbled Purple Stripe Garlic

 

Marbled Purple Stripe garlic is another cold hardy garlic that requires exposure to the cold temperature to grow and develop large bulbs. They are suited for the Canadian climate or any cold climate regions.

 

Marbled Purple Stripe are ready for harvest in mid-Season. They are generally harvested and eaten earlier than the other family groups. The umbels form very large bulbils, and these bulbils will form large single round bulbs in the first year. Again, with all hardnecks, removal of the scape is important for the bulb to size up.

 

The bulbs will have beautiful purple wrappers and the cloves have a symmetrical structure. Each bulb produces between 4 to 7 cloves, and are easy to peel. The flavour is very hot & spicy, and adds amazing flavour to any recipes. The storage life is about 5 to 7 months.

 

Overall, it is an easy garlic to grow and a reliable performer with consistent huge bulbs. It has become a very popular garlic with growers.

 

 

Glazed Purple Stripe Garlic

 

This group is genetically different from the other 2 Purple Stripe groups, they are often mistaken together.

 

Glazed Purple Stripe garlic is known for its beautiful colouring, especially the glazed or matte metallic appearance of the bulb wrappers, hence the name. The bulb and clove colourations are influenced by the location and environmental conditions, so sometimes growers may mistakenly assume they have discovered a new breed. This is another cold hardy garlic that requires exposure to the cold temperature to grow and develop large bulbs. They are suited for the Canadian climate or any cold climate regions.

 

The umbels form 80 or so medium sized bulbils per umbel that grow to marble sized rounds the first year and larger rounds or small cloved bulbs in the second. 3 to 4 years to mature bulb size. Again with all hardnecks, removal of the scape is important for the bulb to size up.

 

This variety generally does not do well in wet soil conditions, particularly in wet rainy seasons when the soil do not drain fast enough, the planted cloves will rot. In wet regions, this should be planted in raised beds with good drainage.

 

The bulbs contain 5 to 7 large cloves with very delicate wrappings. Hence the bulbs require gentle handling. From a culinary perspective, this garlic family is not too hot or spicy but they have good flavour. The storage life is about 7 to 8 months.