What Garlic Tastes Best?
Even though we often find a very limited selection of garlic at a grocery store, hundreds of garlic strains exist. Each of the different strains have differences in taste, size, strength, and pungency. Some are better for raw dishes, others are best for baking.
Even though it appears from looking at seed catalogs that there are many garlic cultivars, DNA analysis indicates that many of them are clones of each other and have merely been renamed.
Garlic's unique flavor comes from sulfur compounds. Like other members of the allium family, the plant absorbs sulfate from the soil and incorporates it into amino acids and sulfur storage molecules. These sulfur storage molecules can then be broken down into approximately 50 different sulfur-containing compounds when the garlic is prepared and eaten. "These molecules give the plants an ecological advantage when they're growing out in the wild. As it happens, they're also biologically active within mammalian cells and tissues," says senior author Peter Rose, a biochemist at the University of Nottingham.
At the GroEat Garlic Farm, we grow hardneck garlic including Rocambole, Porcelains, Purple Stripe, and Marbled Purple Stripe. If you are used to the softneck garlic found in most grocery stores, you'll find that hardneck garlic is superior. Purple Striped garlic is aptly named for its magenta and purple stripes. Porcelain garlic has a thick, porcelain-color tough skin making them excellent for storing. Porcelains are all full-flavored, hot and pungent in taste. Cloves are large. Crushed raw garlic can be quite hot and pungent. For raw garlic, try using cultivars with a sweeter, less hot taste, such as a Rocambole or Creole, or perhaps a Purple Stripe. For raw dishes, such as guacamole, I avoid using Porcelains such as Music or German Extra Hardy, as they are hotter.
Hardneck Varieties (only a few listed here!)
Chesnok Red is one of our favorite garlic as it has a fantastic flavor for all-around use in the kitchen. This hardneck variety adds a vibrant, rich but not overpowering garlic flavor to virtually any dish. Eaten raw, its intense heat quickly dissipates. Adds a rich, but not overpowering garlic flavor, and balanced, sweet heat when cooked. Great for all-around use in the kitchen. Chesnok Red regularly wins awards as one of the best tasting baking garlic.
Georgian Crystal and Georgian Fire produce some of the highest levels of allicin when crushed. Surprisingly, it has a more mellow, buttery flavor when roasted or baked (assuming it has not been crushed). Clean, fresh-tasting garlic, with a mild yet rich flavor. Adds a perfect light, crisp flavor to stir-fries, vegetables, chicken and fish. This garlic has a mellow raw flavor, is great for uncooked dips, pesto, and salsa. When roasted, it has a smooth buttery flavor.
Spanish Roja is also hot and fiery. It also contains high amounts of allicin, the compound in garlic believed to be an immune-system booster. Spanish Roja is true garlic in all ways. Its flavor is garlickiness with a dash of pungency. The depth of flavor is remarkable, with a deep earthy muskiness. Eaten raw, it is hot, but not too hot, as there is a sweetness that comes through. When cooked, the flavor is sweet, rich, and complex. Easy to peel.
Music, is a porcelain garlic and is large, jumbo garlic. Some consumers mistake it for elephant garlic as cloves are the size of a large thumb. Music is a little sweeter than other porcelains, it’s very good with fish and chicken. Sweet and aromatic, spicy when raw. But when cooked, Music gives dishes a balanced earthy garlic flavor gourmet chefs covet. The jumbo cloves make Music a great choice for baking and roasting. Music garlic is one of the most popular varieties around.
German Extra Hardy (aka German White) -- Rich garlic flavor with lingering heat. The taste is pungent, but not overpowering. This variety's very large cloves makes it one of the easiest to peel. German Extra Hardy is perfect for pesto-making or baking whole. Its mild flavor when cooked makes it a favorite among chefs for garlic mashed potatoes.
Phillips-- Spicy, with some underlying sweetness. Originally from Maine, Phillips is easy to peel.
Bogatyr - Marbled Purple Stripe. Bogatyr is one of the spiciest garlic varieties around and is well-liked because it has a “true garlic” flavor. Its flavor is considered to be full-bodied, rich, and hot; It provides an initial spicy bite when raw but the flavor does not linger on the palate.
Metechi - Metechi Garlic has been described as GREAT BULBS of FIRE. It is a stunning hardneck garlic, that does well in most climates and does exceptionally well in climates with cold winters. Metechi is one of the hotter varieties of garlic available. It is fiery hot when eaten raw, though when sautéed, Metechi delivers robust garlic flavor along with a sharp bite. Cooking will tone down the heat, while still holding that big garlic taste.
Persian Star - When the coves of the Persian Star are peeled, the tips look like a “Persian star”, hence the name. Persian Star is one of the most stunning of the Purple Stripes with its thick white bulb wrappers that are streaked with purple as you peel away the outer wrappers. With vivid clove colors, a rich and mild spicy zing, and large easy-to-peel cloves, this is tasty and beautiful garlic. It is considered a true hardneck with a single circle of cloves around a central woody stem. It is superior all-around garlic with a delectable flavor with a mild spice. Persian Star lends itself to roasting, baking, or enjoying raw. It also goes by other names including Samarkand and Duganskij, and Duganski; They apparently originated in Uzbekistan, a central Asian Islamic republic that was once part of the USSR.
Purple Glazer - Purple Glazer is known for being one of the best garlic for baking, cooking and eating raw. It has moderate heat that is not over-powering making it perfect for dishes that call for raw garlic (pesto, salsa, bruschetta and dips). When cooked, it produces warm, rich and complex flavours. Cloves are moderate to large in size and are easy to peel. The complex color pallet and vivid hues makes this a very attractive garlic. Wrappers have a white, glazed, matte-metallic appearance. The parchment-like wrappers have a vivid-purple color with occasional splashes of silver, magenta, plum and lavender. Cloves are fitted around the central, hardneck stem and numbers vary between five to twelve per head. Apparently, this garlic was first collected in 1986, from Mchadijvari. Purple Glazer garlic, botanically classified as Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, and is a hardneck variety originally from Central Asia. Known as Mchadijvari #1 in the Republic of Georgia, Purple Glazer garlic is one of a few cultivated varieties from the glazed purple stripe group of garlic.
Russian Doukhobor - Purple Glazer is known for being one of the best garlic for baking, cooking and eating raw. It has moderate heat that is not over-powering making it perfect for dishes that call for raw garlic (pesto, salsa, bruschetta and dips). When cooked, it produces warm, rich and complex flavours. Cloves are moderate to large in size and are easy to peel. The complex color pallet and vivid hues makes this a very attractive garlic. Wrappers have a white, glazed, matte-metallic appearance. The parchment-like wrappers have a vivid-purple color with occasional splashes of silver, magenta, plum and lavender. Cloves are fitted around the central, hardneck stem and numbers vary between five to twelve per head. Apparently, this garlic was first collected in 1986, from Mchadijvari. Purple Glazer garlic, botanically classified as Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, and is a hardneck variety originally from Central Asia. Known as Mchadijvari #1 in the Republic of Georgia, Purple Glazer garlic is one of a few cultivated varieties from the glazed purple stripe group of garlic.
This is not the end of the story. Please read on to learn more about factors that influence the taste of garlic!
A bulb of garlic and the individual cloves that make up the bulb - are alive. The bulb or head is made up of multiple cloves, arranged in a tight family. Garlic is a particularly rich source of organosulfur compounds. When garlic is first harvested from its cozy home a few inches below the soil surface, it's moisture content is the highest. At this time, the freshly harvested garlic will have the least pungent (hot and zingy) taste. In fact, the taste will be very mild at this harvest time. As garlic cures, over the course of a few weeks to a month, moisture evaporates from the cloves. As the moisture disappears, the taste increases in hotness and pungency, and at this time, cured garlic has a zingy, savory flavor. Over time, the taste of garlic changes. In fact, it is always changing and never static. Each clove contains the road map, the instructions, the DNA (just like its mother clove before it) to develop into a new family of cloves.
If you live in the United States, more than likely you cook with softneck garlic. It is named this as its neck is soft and braidable. Softneck garlic is grown in abundance in California, Oregon, and Nevada. It is also grown in China and imported into the United States. The two most prevalent varieties grown commercially are California Early and California Late. Softneck garlic contains a circle of plump cloves surrounding and adjoining the second circle of smaller cloves, all enveloped by many papery layers of skin. Because softneck garlic stores well, it has become the favored commercial garlic in most supermarkets and grocery stores.
Hardneck garlic develops a central flowering stem and is hard and erect (as compared to the limp, softneck stem). Hardnecks have a single row of cloves, wrapped in multiple layers of papery skin which forms the “head” or bulb of garlic. Hardneck garlic varieties tend to grow best in colder climates as they are more winter-hardy. Surprisingly, hardneck garlics peel easier, are more flavorful than their softneck relatives, though they have fewer, and larger cloves per head. Why do we not find more hardneck garlic in the supermarket? One reason is that hardneck varieties do not store as well as softnecks. They begin to deteriorate and shrivel within four to six months after harvest.
Regardless of the type of garlic, there are many factors that affect the taste, size, flavor and eating caliber in the kitchen. Growing conditions, soil type, the weather during the growing season and harvest, moisture content, and the nutrients and earth elements in the soil all contribute to the final product. Surprisingly, the taste of garlic can vary year to year depending on simple factors such as the weather. For example, if there is a drought during the growing season and the saturated moisture level in the soil is low, the resulting garlic may have a more pungent flavor. The fact that garlic is ever-changing, and has a dynamic life cycle, explains a great deal of its changing taste and spectrum of flavors over its life.
Garlic Needs Curing.
At harvest, garlic is hung away from direct sunlight, in a dry, well-ventilated place. Here it cures for three to five weeks before going to market. Curing dries the bulb and brings out the additional flavor, and as the cloves’ papery skin turns darker and forms a tight, sealing cover around the individual cloves.
Preparing Garlic Changes the Flavor.
How garlic is prepared has a big impact on its intensity in a prepared food dish. For example, a mushy, pureed garlic clove can taste much more garlicky than a chopped one, while a whole clove might lend a subtle, almost sweet garlic flavor to dishes. Also, how "garlicky" the cooked food will be, is a function of the type of garlic used, how much garlic was used, and how long the diced or chopped or crushed garlic is allowed to "sit around" or rest. Garlic is a particularly rich source of organosulfur compounds. The two main classes of organosulfur compounds found in whole garlic cloves are L-cysteine sulfoxides and γ-glutamyl-L-cysteine peptides. Crushing or chopping garlic releases an enzyme called alliinase that catalyzes the formation of allicin from S-allyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide (Allin). Allicin rapidly breaks down to form a variety of organosulfur compounds. Cooking Garlic, and the earlier the garlic is added to the dish, the creamier and milder the taste will be. In order to maximize the garlicky taste of the finished dish, many famous cooks and chefs add crushed garlic just before turning off the heat source. This way, many of the important flavor organosulfur compounds, do not get damaged by heat. The half-life of allicin (found in crushed garlic) is approximately 3 days. Curious how different garlic forms and preparations will affect your final food dish? Here are a few notes and ideas on how different forms of garlic range in flavor.
Whole garlic - refers to an entire clove of garlic. Whole garlic is not crushed, chopped, or grated. Instead, the entire clove is kept whole, and allowed to release the most subtle flavor of all food preparations because it requires no cuts. Whole garlic is often used in stews, savory soups, and roasts. Begin by "popping" or breaking a bulb/head to separate the cloves. Simply roll the skinned cloves inside a silicon tube (looks like a cardboard toilet paper roll) the countertop while pressing downward. Cloves come out peeled, but hands stay clean and won’t smell garlicky. Cooking with a whole clove of garlic will yield a lighter, more mellow garlic taste.
Chopped and Minced Garlic:
Chopped or minced garlic results in finer and relatively small pieces of garlic. Many recipes commonly call for chopped or minced garlic. Typically chopping or mincing is done by hand with a knife. Chopped and minced garlic will be pungent as many of the garlic cells are broken down by the chopper or knife.
Grated or Pureed Garlic:
Grated or pureed garlic will typically yield the most pungent, zingy taste, as many of the garlic’s cells become smashed in the process, releasing the maximum amount of allicin. If you attempt this method, use a medium grater, or a hand-held garlic press.
A favorite way to prepare garlic is to use a slicer to create thin, even slices. Use a Garlic Slicer with bi-directional blades; That’s perfect for stir-fry recipes and simple pasta. Compared to the whole clove, sliced garlic will release more of the essential garlic flavor as some of its cells have been broken up by each slice. Compared to graded or pureed garlic, it will result in a more robust, buttery flavor. Freezing a garlic clove beforehand can help make slicing easier and more consistent.
Regardless of where you find your perfect head of garlic, feel it, squeeze it, and make sure you are going home with a very firm head of garlic. Avoid bulbs that are dried out, and have dark spots, soft spots, or mold. If you see green shoots emerging from the top of a bulb, this is a good indicator that the cloves are beginning to grow. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Garlic varieties vary in size, because of growing conditions and garlic DNA. Sometimes, a smaller bulb of garlic has more flavor than a larger one. After you get home, store your garlic in a cool, dry place. For just a few heads, a ventilated ceramic container or garlic keeper works well. If you buy a large amount of garlic, hang it in a mesh sack in your basement or garage (as long as it is cool and dry), away from direct sunlight and away from any heat source. Never store garlic bulbs in a refrigerator or sealed plastic bag, unless it is only for a few hours.
A few years ago, we explored a wide variety of garlic, took a detour into the world of amazing flavors and tastes, and ordered garlic from the GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in Bozeman, Montana. The hardnecks they grow, flourish at 5,100 feet above sea level, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range (comprised of Archean metamorphics, Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, and Eocene volcanic). Not only are the GroEat garlic healthy and beautiful, but its flavors are also robust and delicate!