Buying Garlic Seed?
Updated: Jan 1
While most recipes don't specifically state what type or variety of garlic to use, once you know the basic varieties, you can begin to experiment with the unique flavors and nuances of each type. We've tasted many garlic varieties, softneck and hardneck, raw and cooked, and found a wide range of flavors.
At GroEat Farm (Bozeman, Montana), we grow and sell Hardneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) is named for the long flowering stem in the center of the garlic bulb. Hardneck garlic tends to have more flavor than their soft-necked cousins. They're characterized by hard woody central stalks and a long flower stalk (scape) that loops and curls. They tend to have three to fifteen+ cloves in each bulb. Hardneck garlic is often considered to be spicy or hot. Unlike Softneck garlic, the stem of the hardneck garlic is rigid and stiff. Hardneck varieties develop a long flowering stem, called a scape, which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. Underground, around this central flowering stem, is a single row of cloves wrapped together in a papery sheath to form the “head” or bulb of garlic . Hardneck garlic tends to grow best in areas with very cold winters, since they require a longer time of vernalization (a period of time kept in cold winter conditions - to be dormant so they can flower in the spring).
Hardneck garlic is categorized into Hardneck Subtypes. There are three main subtypes of hardneck garlic, including Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe and Rocambole. In addition to the Hardneck Group, there are two other groups including Weakly Bolting Hardneck and Softneck. The garlic family tree is evolving as mapping the genes of the varieties and subvarieties continues. Previously there were thought to be five major groupings referred to as varieties. Currently there are considered to be ten varieties, eight ophios and two softnecks. The ophios (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) include five true hardneck varieties (Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe) and three weakly bolting hardnecks that often produce softnecks (Creole, Asiatic and Turban).
Purple Stripe (Hardneck)
Purple Stripe Garlic is a sub-group of Hardneck Garlic. There are about 17 varieties in this sub-group. Some think it's one of the oldest types of garlic, because it's the group of garlic that produces flowers that are fertile. The garlic in this group is visually attractive because of the purple streaks and purple/maroon splashes on the outer skins attached to the cloves and the purple colors on the bulb wrappers. In addition to their vibrance and beautiful appearance, Purple Stripe garlic are very flavorful, usually winning "best baked garlic" taste tests conducted by cooks and chefs at BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, Cooks Country, and Martha Stewart. Purple Stripe garlic plants are easy to recognize in the garden, as their leaves grow at wider angles to the stem as compared to other subtypes.
The subvarieties of Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, and Marbled Purple Stripe have colors beautiful colors including 'Eggplant Purple" and "Byzantium" speckled with Amaranth, Orchid, Plum, Rose, Gold and Silver hues. The Marbled Group - a subvariety of Purple Stripe are more similar to Purple Stripes. The wrappers that cover the bulb tend to be marked with smears or spots of color. These strains have about 5 or 6 cloves per bulb.
Rocambole garlics are known for their "true garlic flavor." Many people consider them their favorite garlic because of their complex, rich taste. In appearance, they are not as white as other hardnecks; Some even look as if they need to be washed, due to a brownish-purple hue. What they lack in beauty, they make up for in taste. Keep in mind that some rocamboles have sharp, vivid colors. Rocambole garlics tend to have thinner bulb wrappers than other hardnecks and lots of purple striping and markings. In late spring, these low growing plants have a deep green/blue tint. The garlic scape (stalk) that forms in the spring, completes a double loop. (They're the only garlics that do a double loop). Even Though the Rocambole strains have amazing flavour, the disadvantage of Rocambole strains is a shorter storage life than other varieties. Rocamboles are grown successfully in the cooler, northern hemisphere and do not do well in the warmest of climates.
Porcelain are more "hot" and "garlicky." Porcelains are richly flavored garlic and have a strong raw taste. When cooked, Porcelain garlic has a rich, buttery flavor. Porcelain garlics store longer than most other garlics assuming the storage temperature is cool. As compared to Rocambole, and Purple Stripe varieties, At our farm, the cloves of the Porcelains are often very large and have the appearance of elephant garlic. Most Porcelains are clothed in a white bulb wrappers with only 4 to 6 rounded, symmetrical cloves per bulb. From a grower's perspective, the fewer cloves per head, results in fewer plants per pound of seed stock.
One of our favorite Porcelain garlics is Music. Music is a fantastic plant producing very large bulbs. When baked or cooked, Music results in a complex, sweet garlic flavour. Hot when consumed raw. Music is a popular variety due to robust and strong, rich and musky taste, vigorous growth, and five to seven very large easy to peel cloves. Music is a long-storing garlic, storing into spring and is a Bestseller!
When purchasing garlic to grow in your garden, try different garlic varieties. Each garlic cultivar has a subtly distinct flavor. It’s fun to experiment in the kitchen and discover what flavor each variety can lend to a dish. Hardneck types are great for northern gardeners, but they only store for 3-6 months. There are hundreds of named hardneck garlic varieties, and the diversity they offer in the kitchen is unparalleled. There are so many unique flavors. If you plan to grow your own garlic, they should be planted in well-drained soil that has been amended with compost. The best pH for bulb development is between 6.0 and 7.0.
Read the article on Genetic Diversity among U.S. Garlic Clones as Detected Using AFLP Methods by Gayle M. Volk, Adam D. Henk, and Christopher M. Richards. http://garlicseedfoundation.info/jashsgarlic.pdf
Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.