Garlic is Allium sativums and is a species in the Onion genus. Garlic comes in right behind onions in the most important allium crop in the world.
Garlic has over six hundred different varieties. Garlic has two subspieces; Hardneck and Softneck.
Hardneck Garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) produces woody flower stalks and scapes. They produce usually a single circle of cloves around the central woody stalk producing average of 6-10 easy peeling cloves. The flowers can form bulbils that can then be planted as the seed to start the garlic again from scratch. However after the first season of growth from a seed small round bulbs will usually be the product and they will need to be replanted. It can take up to 3 years to produce large healthy garlic from seed. Hardnecks are difficult to braid and so not store as well as the softneck garlic and may start to dry out or form roots and sprouts within a few months of harvest. We have found some exceptions to this rule in our experience as some do store quite well for us. Hardneck varieties include: Rocambole, Standard Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Asiatic, Turban Artichokes, and Creole subvarieties.
Hardnecks have a much stronger, more evolved flavor that can range from being sweet to spicy and even on occasion to a very hot flavor depending on the variety.
Rocamboles are the most commonly grown hardneck in North America. They are more difficult to grow than the Softneck varieties and they do not store as long either but their strong robust flavor is exceptional and extremely diverse. If they are properly stored they will last between 6-10 months.
Rocambole has a deep green or blue green color of leaves. They most always have a bulbil unless stressed. They have an umbel at the tip of the flower stalk. The bulb can vary in size but is usually 2’ to 2.75”. The bulb skin is off white but can have different degrees of light to dark purple. The skins can be easy to peel and there is often double cloves. They can have three to fourteen cloves. The color of the cloves is mostly brown but can have a red or purple blush. This bulb matures after artichokes. These can store well for 3-4 months however if properly grown and cured they will last much longer to possibly eight months.
Softneck Garlic (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) is a much more milder and general garlic. It is often what you find in grocery stores. Two subspecies of softneck garlic is Artichoke and Silverskin. These garlics are large bulbed and grow very well in a wide range of climates and soils. They are the easiest to grow. They may or may not produce bulbils and most likely do not produce a scape. These types of garlic usually produce more cloves per bulb for an example of eight to twenty and they can have many inner cloves. These garlics also can store a lot longer than the hardneck varieties and can with good storing conditions they can store for a year. They are also the kind you would use to form a braid. There are a few brands that can mimic hardneck and a very cold winter might cause this but it is a very small minority.
Artichokes seem to be the most commonly grown garlic in North America. Artichokes have on average pale green leaves. They mature earlier than most garlics. They do not have any flower stalks although in some climates it can happen on a few. These have large bulbs which can be around 3” with off white or yellow white or even purple blush. They are mostly white but can have some pink blush.
Elephant Garlic is actually not a true garlic but a leek. However it does look like very enormous garlic that has cloves with a very mild taste of garlic flavor that can also be slightly bitter. It is often times used in Asian dishes like stir fry and its seed stalk is used as well for Asian dishes and can be found more and more in specialty stores.