There are over 600 sub-varieties of garlic Allium Sativum that vary in size, shape, color, smell, taste, number of cloves per bulb, pungency and shelf life. These sub-varieties all originate from the two main types of garlic, hard necked garlics Ophioscorodon, and soft necked garlics Sativum. From these types are five distinct varieties.
- Purple Stripe: Tend to be strong in flavor, thick bulb wrappers (some with purple vertical stripes) and fewer cloves. Common varieties include Metechi, Skuri #2 and Persian Star.
- Porcelain: Cloves are large and fat, few to a bulb, strong taste, covers are golden brown with some vertical purple stripes.
- Rocambole: Dirty thin wrappers, many purple splotches and grows well in colder climates.
You may have seen Elephant garlic in your supermarket, this is really a leek and is very mild.
- Artichoke: Most common (and diverse), store well, very large bulbs, and are sometimes called "Italian" or "Red" garlic in supermarkets. Many different varieties (ranging in flavor) are; Simoneti (mild), Inchelium and Susanville (medium heat),Chinese Turban and Purple Cauldren (Hot). Asian Rose and Chinese Sativum are creepers - they don't taste hot initially, but ten seconds later, WHEW!
- Silverskin: You usually see these in braids as they have the longest shelf life. These are generally hot, strong tasting cloves that aren't as big as Artichokes but are much more colorful. Some varieties are; Creole (mild) and Nootka Rose (medium).
When purchasing garlic, look for large outer cloves and firm heads. If it is sprouting, discard. Sprouted cloves are rubbery and have less flavor.
Garlic skin is often difficult to remove, a good smack with the side of a knife or the ball of a palm will usually loosen the skin effeciently.
Garlic mellows as it cooks. Raw garlic can overwhelm other flavors so use accordingly. If you burn garlic, it will turn bitter.