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General Description: Garlic (Allium sativum) is a bulb covered with papery skin enclosing individual cloves of the most potent member of the Allium family. Garlic is thought to have originated in the deserts of Central Asia. This “stinking rose” is indispensable in nearly all the world’s cuisines, but because people who eat garlic give off a strong garlic smell, it has not always been socially acceptable. Known in China since antiquity, garlic was important to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

A mature head of garlic contains anywhere from 6 to 24 individual cloves that release a notoriously strong aroma when crushed. There are two main types of garlic bulbs: softneck and hardneck (or rocambole). Softneck has a fibrous stem that dries into a grasslike top that can be braided. Pleasingly fragrant hardneck garlic has a long hard central stem surrounded by firm, easy-to-peel cloves with an intense flavor.

Elephant garlic is more closely related to a leek, though it looks like an extra-large garlic bulb. It is quite mild with potato-like flesh. Green garlic is pulled from the ground before the bulb forms, when the plant resembles a leek stalk about 1/2 inch in diameter. Its mild, fresh, sharp flavor is fleeting and herblike rather than oily and lastingly pungent.

Season: Garlic is in season year-round, though new crop garlic is the best choice when it can be found.

Purchase: Choose bulbs that are large, plump, and firm with a tight and unbroken sheath. Garlic bulbs from the current year’s crop will have plump hard cloves that fill their skins. Look for pink-skinned rocambole in markets with a large Latino or Mediterranean population.

Peeled garlic cloves are also available. This garlic has had its skin removed by blowing air. When buying peeled garlic, look for pearly white, firm cloves with no shriveling and no mold or soft stickiness.

Avoid: As garlic ages, it starts to shrivel and begins to sprout, which turns the flavor bitter. Avoid soft, spongy, or shriveled bulbs.

Storage: Store best-quality garlic bulbs for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Keep dry; moisture will make garlic spoil. As it ages, garlic begins to lose its plumpness. Store peeled garlic in its container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Store green garlic and garlic chives for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.


  1. Rub off the loose outer skin of the head of garlic, exposing the individual cloves. Pull the cloves away from the core.
  2. Using the side of a heavy knife, smash down each garlic clove to break open its skin. Remove skin from individual cloves.
  3. Use garlic whole, smashed, sliced, slivered, chopped, or pressed through a garlic press.

Serving Suggestions: Use as the base for nearly all savory dishes, sautéing briefly prior to adding other ingredients. Make garlic and potato cream soup with mature or green garlic. Caramelize garlic cloves by frying in olive oil till golden brown, then use the garlic or oil separately in cooking.

Flavor Affinities: Basil, broccoli, chicken, crab, mushrooms, potato, shrimp, spinach, steak, tomatoes, tomato sauces.

from Quirk Books: