What are the differences among garlic varieties?
Garlic falls into two primary categories: hardneck and softneck. The garlic that most of us cook with is softneck, so called because its neck is soft and braidable. Softneck garlic contains a circle of plump cloves shrouding a second circle of smaller cloves, all enveloped by many papery layers. Because softneck garlic is heat tolerant and produces and stores well, it has become the favored commercial garlic. Supermarket garlics are almost invariably softneck.
Hardneck, which is the original cultivated garlic variety, is distinguished by its stiff center staff, around which large uniform cloves hang. Hardneck garlic has a relatively sparse parchment wrapper that makes it easier to peel (and damage) than softneck. It is considered superior in flavor—more complex and intense than softneck. Its thinly wrapped cloves lose moisture quickly, however, and do not winter over, as do the cloves of the robust softneck.
We tasted eight garlic varieties, softneck and hardneck, raw and cooked, and found a wide range of flavors. We enjoyed several softneck and hardneck varieties, but our favorites were Porcelain Zemo and Rocambole Carpathian, both of which are hardnecks.
| | Raw | Sautéed | Source | | --- | --- | --- | --- | | Our Favorite: Porcelain Zemo | Sweet top note, turns into a pleasing bite, garlic flavor without heat, lingering, complex, no bitterness on finish, very nice. | Strong yet balanced, spicy bite, mild, mellow, nice. | Filaree Farms | | Porcelain Music | Fragrant, floral, deep round garlic flavor, peppery but sweet, quite a sting. | | Blue Willow Farm | | Porcelain German White | Stinging red-hot-candy heat, strongly spicy, vegetal and green, tannic and metallic. | Hot and raw, light bitter finish, lots of high and low notes, complex, astringent. | Blue Willow Farm | | B> Rocambole Carpathian | Burns roof of mouth but has good flavor, starts mild, turns hot, long biting, bitter aftertaste. | "Yummy," mild, fragrant, perfumed, upfront flavor dissolves fast, no lingering flavor. | Filaree Farms | | Purple Stripe Chesnok Red | Sweet, caramel-like, nutty, no heat upfront, fleeting, piquant. | Lifeless, spineless, "old gym socks," "garlic muzak." | Filaree Farms |
| | Raw | Sautéed | Source | | --- | --- | --- | --- | | Artichoke Inchelium Red | Nice medium bite, slow low heat, lingering flavor. | Big bite, raw-tasting, hot and pungent, sour and bitter. | Filaree Farms | | Artichoke Polish | Mild, mellow, buttery, nutty. | Fishy and rancid, not sweet enough, dull and flat. | Blue Willow Farms | | Silverskin Silver White | Rough, "heartburn city" according to one taster, "garlic by Hasbro" according to another, sharp and metallic. | Very mellow, full garlic flavor, anchovy flavored, spicy. | Local Grocery Store |