Currently there are believed to be ten garlic 'families' or sub-varietial groups. Right now I am growing nine of the ten families. I enjoy being able to compare their growing habits and taste side by side. I’ve included the varieties we are growing in each category along with observations on growth habit, hardiness, bulb size, clove number, storage times and garlic taste.
A word on taste: Taste is very subjective; some people even have more or different taste buds than other people! We have several people taste and compare experiences but our opinions on flavor may not match yours. With garlic, growing conditions can really influence taste. For tastier garlic make sure your soil is high in sulfur containing amendments, such as manure.
Storage times are for ideal conditions. Poorly cured garlic or garlic stored in less than ideal conditions will not last as long.
Picture: Perfectly formed Romanian Red bulbs with large cloves. Porcelain bulbs and cloves are very symmetrical and normally have large cloves. Most years our porcelains all have 4-6 extremely large cloves. Under unusual weather conditions, they will have more but smaller cloves.
Porcelain – Georgian Crystal, Romanian Red, Parvin
Porcelains have a medium to strong taste that holds up well in cooking. They have a great garlicky flavor and are excellent in many dishes. These queenly garlics have huge beautiful bulbs that just invite inclusion in a still life. Some are almost too perfect to break open. Their paper covered cloves are large, uniform, shimmery, and have been known to bring tears to the eyes of a seasoned garlic grower. Normally bulbs contain 2-8 cloves. Stately plants have narrow upright leaves and are 4-6 feet from base to scape. Porcelains are long storing garlic (7-9 months).
Purple Stripe – Chesnok Red
Picture: Colorful Chesnok Red garlic bulbs compete with violet flowers. This is a truly lovely garlic bulb.
Purple stripes are known as great baking garlics with a sweet cooked flavor. Chesnok Red is so sweet when baked that it is used as the special ingredient in garlic ice cream! Plants are upright, with straight leaves and 3-5 feet in height. White bulbs have purple streaks and contain 8-16 skinny brownish cloves. Cloves have a unique crescent moon shape. Bulbs store for 6-7 months.
Picture: Three Red Rezan garlic bulbs rest in the grass. Note the slight attractive iridescence which is typical of this variety.
Glazed Purple Stripe – Red Rezan
This is a girl next door bulb with a secret. Uncover the lovely wrapping and discover truly beautiful cloves. Red Rezan cloves sparkle in the sun like small iridescent jewels. Their beauty inspires the desire to make lovely vampire repelling necklaces. These garlics are not all flash, however; their taste is also desirable. It adds a lovely undertone to any dish. Plants are 3-5 feet tall with upright leaves. Bulbs contain 6-12 cloves and store 5-7 months.
Marble Purple Stripes are beautiful in form and taste. As suggested by the name, bulbs usually are splattered with purple. Upright plants are 3-5 feet tall. Often the plant’s slender elegant stalks hide surprisingly large bulbs. Cloves are exceptionally lovely, extremely smooth, and range in color from deep purple to white. Their elegant smooth form makes you want to run them through your hands or use them as edible art. Bulbs contain 4-8 cloves and will store for 6-7 months.
Both Siberian and Bogatyr have been exceptionally easy to grow.
Picture: A box of purple and white striped Siberian garlic bulbs. These bulbs are always very attractive.
Asiatic – Asian Tempest
Asiatic garlic has wide floppy leaves and a long beak or scape with a few large bulblets. This 3-3.5 foot garlic matures early. Bulbs are medium in size and well formed. They contain 4-8 deeply colored cloves (Asian Tempest has gorgeous dark purple cloves). The taste can range from fiery hot to wonderfully sweet. Asiatic garlics add that special zing to dishes. Many garlic sites believe that Asiatic garlics have a storage time of 5-6 months. We have found that well cured Asian Tempest stores longer.
Rocambole – German Red, Phillips, Amish Rocambole, German Mountain
These deceptively plain garlics have loose clove wrappers which make them easy to peel. Cloves are an attractive brown to red with a hard shell. Normally bulbs contain 8-12 cloves. Rocamboles have an extremely rich deep flavor which is addictive. Some people consider Rocamboles to be the best tasting garlic to eat and the most challenging garlic to grow. These are Northern garlic and crave cold winters.
Picture: Three shimmering white Phillip garlic bulbs shyly hide behind a single fall maple leaf.
The Rocambole plant grows 2-3 feet high and typically has wider leaves than the Porcelain garlics. They can be a diva to grow and do not do well in the South or in poorly drained soil. Rocamboles are short storing garlics (5-6 month storage).
Creole – Burgundy, Cuban Purple, Labera Purple
These garlics have an exceptional flavor with a delightful nutty quality. Flavor can be sharp with a burst of heat that fades quickly leaving you with a pleasant aftertaste. They are the current rage in gourmet cooking. Creoles have small but colorful cloves which are a surprisingly deep purple and/or red. There are 8-12 cloves per bulb. Right now I am working on increasing the size of these lovely little gems. Creoles grow great in the Southern states (even the deep South) and love heat. They do not like extremely cold winters and do not grow well in the extreme North. They are long storing (9-10 months).
Update on breeding program 2017: The size increase is occurring in these lovely little gems. I have been selecting only the largest cloves to plant. The plants coming up this year are much larger than last year.
Turban – Tzan, Shantung Purple
Some garlics have a garlic flavor while others just add a magical flavor to a dish. The Turbans are delightful garlics that do not taste at all garlicky. Flavors can range from hot to very mild with a unique vegetable undertone. Tzan is Susan’s favorite garlic when sliced and sautéed with a bit of butter. Turbans mature early. Short plants have wider, floppier leaves. Purple striped bulbs contain 7-12 lovely brown cloves.
Picture: Turban garlic has a fat and slightly flattened bulb shape. Fat cloves are uniform in shape and size.
Artichoke – Inchelium, Thermadrone, Lorz Italian
These large softnecks are great growers and multiple quickly. Their chalky feeling, irregularly sized and shaped cloves (12-25) are arranged in a somewhat random pattern with 2-5 clove layers. What they lack in symmetry they make up in size. You may not rave over their beauty but you will love how easy they are to grow! These are perfect for Northern and Southern growers. Taste can range from mild to hot. Artichokes mature earlier than most hardnecks and are extremely long storing (9-10 months).
Picture: a single Thermadrone garlic bulb. These softneck bulbs can grow very large.
Silverskin – This is the only garlic we are not currently growing.
Like the Artichoke garlics, the Silverskin garlics are not top contenders in beauty contests. These late maturing prolific garlics have 2-5 layers of irregularly sized cloves. They may have 8-40 cloves with can be hard to peel. These softneck garlics are large and very long storing (9-12 months).
We tried growing a Silverskin variety once but were not happy with the size. It was before I understood the ins and outs of increasing garlic size.