Ask a Local Master Gardener: The tasty world of garlic

  • There are many different types of garlic, each with its own shape and flavor. David Monniaux, Wikimedia Commons

For the Gazette
Published: 10/18/2019 2:07:34 PM
Modified: 10/18/2019 2:07:21 PM

Q: I’m confused about the different kinds of garlic. Can you shed some light on the subject for me? —T.C., Northampton

A: Welcome to the pungent, aromatic, savory world of garlic, T.C.! What a tasty one it is. There are a host of flavor profiles and varieties beyond that of the lonely single white bulb offered in so many grocery stores. Let’s broadly touch on the different garlic categories here to get you started.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is part of the onion family and has two primary types: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties have a stiff stalk or “neck,” hence the name. They give you those delectable green garlic scapes in early spring just when we are craving signs of new garden goodness. These scapes are removed (and eaten) to focus all the plant’s energy on growing that marvelous bulb instead of flowering. They tend to be more cold hardy, so are better for us northern gardeners. They are also easier to peel right away than the softnecks.

One of the most common hardneck type is thin skinned “Rocambole.” “Spanish Roha” is a popular Rocambole variety beloved for its bold, full garlic taste. Like spicy? “German Red” is a good heirloom Rocambole with spicy, rich flavor.

Two other well-known hardneck varieties are Porcelain and Purple Striped. Porcelain types have very thick outer skins making them good for storing. They are also known for their medicinal compounds and often hot bite. “German White” is a popular, robust Porcelain garlic with some heat.

Purple Striped varieties range from mild to exceptionally pungent. These pretty garlics derive their name from their beautiful purple striped skin. “Chesnok Red” is a mild, creamy variety. A good roasting Purple Stripe is “Metechi” garlic.

Have you heard of Elephant Garlic? Well, it is not actually a garlic. It is a type of leek — just so you know. Its bulb looks somewhat similar to garlic and it tastes a bit more like a mellow garlic than a leek, hence the confusion.

Softneck type garlic is grown more in the South. Softnecks are used for braiding and store better than most hardnecks. If you enjoy scapes, then these are not for you as they do not produce scapes. You need to wait longer — often a good six months — before easily peeling softnecks.

Two well-known types of softneck garlic are Silverskins and Artichoke. Silverskins are popular in grocery stores and have numerous smaller cloves per bulb. ‘Silver White’ is one silverskin variety with mild flavor. Artichoke garlic has a couple concentric rows of cloves similar in appearance to an artichoke. It can have hard-to-peel skin, but good storage and productivity. “Inchelium Red” is a happy medium artichoke variety — not too hot, not too mild. If you choose a softneck, confirm that it will grow well up here in Zone 5.

Enjoy your garlic exploration, T.C. Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be answered per week.

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