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October 23, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

Botany of garlic

  • There are many different kinds of garlic and they’re almost all different in size, color, shape, taste, number of cloves per bulb, pungency and storability. 
  • Most consumers aren’t aware of the many kinds since they seldom see more than one kind in the local supermarket. 
  • There are said to be over 600 cultivated sub-varieties of garlic in the world, although most of them are selections of only a handful of basic types that have been grown widely and developed their own characteristics over the centuries as local growing conditions changed.

  •  Botanists classify all true garlics under the species Allium sativum. There are two subspecies:
    1. Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, the hard-necked varieties.
    2. Allium sativum var. sativum, the soft-necked varieties.
  • The hard-necked garlics were the original garlics and the soft-necked ones were developed or cultivated over the centuries by growers from the original hard-necks through a process of selection.
  • The latest research in 2003 shows that ten fairly distinct varietal groups of garlic have evolved.
    • Five very different hardneck varieties called:
      • Porcelain
      • Purple Stripe
      • Marbled Purple Stripe
      • Glazed Purple Stripe
      • Rocambole.
    • Three varieties of weakly bolting hardnecks that often produce softnecks:
      • Creole
      • Asiatic
      • Turban
    • Two distinct softneck varietal groups:
      • Artichoke
      • Silverskin
  • Dr. Gail Volk of the USDA in Colorado and Dr. Joachim Keller of the Institute of Plant Biology in Gaterslaben, Germany, independently performed DNA analysis of garlics and classified them in 2003. Previously it had been thought that there were only five varietal groups.
  • All of the hundreds of sub-varieties (separate cultivars) of garlic grown all over the world came from these ten basic groups or sub-varieties of hardnecks that evolved in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. 
  • The individual characteristics of varieties have been altered over time by careful (or accidental) selection and changing growing conditions, such as soil fertility, rainfall, temperature, altitude, length and severity of winter, etc. as they spread across Asia and Europe.
  • The Asiatics and Turbans developed in the East, while the Creoles developed in Spain and southern France and Artichokes and Silverskins developed in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
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