Skip to content
September 23, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Discover Elephant Garlic

Elephant garlic, showing how it is composed of multiple cloves

  • Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) is a plant belonging to the onion genus. 
  • It is not a true garlic, but actually a variant of the species to which the garden leek belongs. 
  • It has a tall, solid, flowering stalk and broad, flat leaves much like those of the leek, but forms a bulb consisting of very large, garlic-like cloves. 
  • The flavour of these, while not exactly like garlic, is much more similar to garlic than to leeks. 
  • The flavour is milder than garlic, and much more palatable to some people than garlic when used raw as in salads.
  • The name comes from its much larger size, being as big as the clenched fist of a man. 
  • Whilst it is much milder than traditional garlic, the individual cloves are big enough to roast whole.

Know your Elephant Garlic – Botany

  • The mature bulb is broken up into cloves which are quite large and with papery skins and these are used for both culinary purposes and propagation. 
  • There are also much smaller cloves with a hard shell that occur on the outside of the bulb. These are often ignored, but if they are planted, they will the first year produce a non-flowering plant which has a solid bulb, essentially a single large clove. 
  • In their second year, this single clove will break up into many separate cloves. 
  • Elephant garlic is not generally propagated by seeds.
  • The plant, if left alone, will spread into a clump with many flowering heads. These are often left in flower gardens as an ornamental and to discourage pests.

Know your Elephant Garlic – Origins

  • The earliest records show that it was grown in 17th century England, around 1650, by John Tradescant the Younger in England. 
  • Elephant Garlic is originally from the Eastern Mediterranean, and travelled to the Scio settlement in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in the U.S.A. with immigrants from the Eastern Balkans, for their own use. 
  • Elephant garlic was re-discovered in 1941 by an American nurseryman, Jim Nicholls, who found it growing wild in the gardens of the now abandoned Scio settlement. 
  • The “herb”, as it was regarded locally, was called Scio’s Giant Garlic.
  • Nicholls collected about 12lbs of it and bred selectively from the larger cloves. 
  • Over a period of twelve years he established a large, very hardy, disease free strain which he started selling commercially in 1953, having registered the name ‘Elephant Garlic’.
  • Elephant Garlic and Leeks have both been selected over many centuries from wild garlic. Certainly, ordinary garlic, elephant garlic and leeks, all have the same form of flat, strap-like leaves, while onions and shallots have round, hollow leaves.

Know your Elephant Garlic – Uses

  • It’s possible to use cloves of elephant garlic as a vegetable—sliced and sautéed in butter or olive oil—as well as a flavoring agent. 
  • Each clove slips nicely out of its papery skin, and, in theory, one clove of elephant is equal in size and weight to about 18 to 20 cloves of regular garlic. 
  • Elephant garlic is a good choice if you want to impart the taste of garlic to a delicately flavoured dish.
  • Once cooked or grilled, elephant garlic takes on a gentle, sweet taste. 
  • Eat it by itself or spread it on a piece of Italian bread. 
  • Because it’s milder and less pungent than garlic, elephant garlic can be enjoyed sliced raw in salads.
  • When cooking elephant garlic, be aware that it tends to brown even more quickly than other types of garlic, and this may give it a bitter taste.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: