If you’ve ever started a garlic recipe only to reach a step and find the garlic you have on hand is unsuitable for the meal, it might be time to learn about the different types of garlic.
The variety of garlic you use in a dish can be a huge factor in how it turns out.
We’ll start with the two broad types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. The difference between these two varieties matters when selecting what to use in a dish.
Types of Garlic
There are even more garlic types to know about, and I’ll share some of my favorites below.
Cultivated hardneck garlic shares more in common with wild garlic relatives growing around the world.
These plants produce large cloves centered around a flowering stalk. Cloves taste milder than softneck varieties, though they are easier to peel, making them a favorite choice for culinary use.
One common but incorrect assumption is that elephant garlic falls into this category.
Despite many shared characteristics, elephant garlic belongs to a whole different genus and is not garlic at all.
Many of the larger types of garlic of the hardneck variety are more colorful with purple and red variations like German Red and Creole.
Softneck garlic is the option that’s most likely to be stocked at your favorite grocery store.
They tend to be smaller but have many more cloves than hardneck garlic. One advantage of these varieties is their long shelf life.
They’re also easier to grow, making them a popular option for gardeners.
While hardneck garlics share a mild flavor, softneck garlic’s flavor range drastically. Since garlic is highly adaptable, it can be grown almost anywhere.
Softneck garlic’s taste is very dependent on the climate where they grow. Generally, plants growing in colder climates produce hotter cloves, but this also varies by type of garlic.
This garlic variety and its subspecies are most frequently grown in Asia with a robust flavor paired with a spicy kick. Many cultivars exist of this type of hot garlic.
Unlike other hardnecks, Asiatic garlic’s thick skin makes them difficult to peel. Despite this, they’re my favorite option for providing a spicy kick to a dish.
Many Asiatic hardneck cultivars display dark purple bulbels, though the colors vary with some brown and pink bulbs.
The edible cloves of these varieties grow large and consistently. Some commonly available cultivars of Asiatic garlic include:
- Asian Tempest
- Korean Mountain
- Japanese Garlic
Known for its deep purple skin, Creole hardneck thrives in warmer regions like Mexico, South America, and California.
These are a late variety that can be planted later in fall than other types of garlic without affecting the garlic’s growth potential.
These are also considerably easier to grow in contrast with different hardneck varieties.
Compared to other hardnecks, Creole varieties tend to have medium-sized cloves. One of the most prized cultivars of Creole garlic is one named Keeper.
I find this garlic is exceptionally versatile with a distinct but not overpowering flavor.
Many types of garlic of this variety are valued for their taste, and I love using this garlic for roasting vegetables and potatoes.
Glazed Purple Stripe Hardneck
Glazed purple stripe hardneck produces some of the most attractive bulbs in the garlic family.
I love how purple and white striped skin looks glossy and almost metallic. The cloves themselves are usually purple-skinned as well.
It might be harder to get a hold of glazed purple stripe hardneck garlic than some of the more widely available types.
If you can find these beauties, the flavor of this variety tends to show a complexity of flavor with lots of hot, garlicky hints.
Heat varies by where they’re grown, but people prize glazed purple stripe for their ability to thrive in colder climates.
Marbled Purple Stripe Hardneck
Marble purple stripe hardnecks share many characteristics with other purple stripe types of garlic.
One of the most prominent is cold hardiness. However, not all aspects are shared. Unlike many other hardnecks, especially other purple stripe varieties, marbled purple stripe hardnecks are strong bolters.
Despite the similarities in name and some shared attributes, all purple stripe varieties are genetically unique from each other.
Marble purple stripe hardneck tastes hot and can be very spicy in its raw form, making it a powerful choice for a dish like a stir fry.
Examples of marbled purple stripe garlic include Moscow Red Russian and Nordic.
Middle Eastern Hardneck
Another subcategory of the hardneck variety, the Middle Eastern hardneck, is less well-defined than other garlic groups.
Considered a weak bolter, this variety has slender leaves but large cloves with white skin that sometimes have a tinge of pink coloration.
The bulbs of these garlic plants skew smaller than other hardneck types.
These will be one of the most challenging garlic to track down in the United States.
Though they are good performers in terms of storage, most markets won’t carry them because they don’t grow well here.
Places with hotter conditions may have better luck cultivating this variety of garlic.
Porcelain hardneck produces large cloves with a pleasant garlic taste.
The cloves’ skin tends to be white with minimal color variation. The skin is tight and shiny but still relatively easy to peel.
This garlic variety grows from one of the largest garlic plants that can reach up to six feet tall.
Despite multiple cultivars sharing slightly different characteristics, research suggests that most porcelain hardneck types are genetically identical.
Despite this information, I’ve found different types of garlic from the porcelain hardneck group to work in many dishes, such as pasta sauces and stews.
Since many of these grow in colder climates, some pack a spicy kick.
Purple Stripe Hardneck
Another distinct group from other similarly named types, purple stripe hardnecks, are very flavorful.
The medium-large cloves usually come in groups of close to ten in the bulbs of this plant.
Wide varieties in this garlic category display purple striped skin on the bulbs though the exact color depends on the type.
The iconic Spanish Roja is one of the most popular types of purple stripe garlic. Cloves from these plants have lots of flavors while still staying mild.
Plus, it’s an excellent option for storage! I like to buy Spanish Roja at local farmers’ markets. Keep an eye out for this cultivar at your local market.
Rocambole garlic is the most commonly grown of the hardneck varieties.
These plants are one of the most popular culinary choices for their rich, complex flavor with hints of sweetness.
Rocambole is my preferred option when adding raw garlic to a dish since it is rarely overpowering while still being flavorful.
While these aren’t commonly grown in North America, they do well in storage, lasting up to eight months.
Rocambole cultivars have very distinctive features compared to other garlic plants. Look for the dark green leaves with an almost blue tinge to spot Rocambole garlic while it’s growing.
The last hardneck variety on the list, turban hardnecks, usually mature faster than other types of garlic.
Since they are more prone to sprouting early, they don’t do as well when stored compared to other garlic.
Bulbs come in various colors, some displaying red or purple stripes. While the skin comes in a few colors, the cloves themselves tend to be a brown shade.
In my experience, turban hardneck builds in intensity on the palate though some also start very hot. Some of the recognizable cultivars in this group include:
- Chinese Stripe
- Red Janice
While there are multiple types of hardneck garlic, softneck varieties only come in two main groups, the first of which is the silverskin.
When you buy garlic from a grocery store, silverskin is the one common type for sale because it has the best characteristics for storage.
Silverskin garlic plants grow pale green leaves and only rarely produce a flower stalk. The bulbs of this plant are white, but some have some slight pink coloration.
These varieties produce more cloves than other garlic types, though they are also slightly smaller. Silverskin garlics also range in flavor from spicy to mild.
When I want to use a softneck variety but still want decently large cloves, I look for artichoke softneck garlics.
This variety is another common commercially sold type since they also store very well.
Cloves are slightly larger than silverskin softnecks, and their size can make them difficult to peel.
Bulbs of this garlic are white, with some having a pink or brown tint. Generally, the cloves of this garlic are white and form in two layers.
The outer layer of cloves is more prominent, while the inner layer makes narrow cloves.
Artichoke softnecks vary in taste depending on climate, so expect to find them in a range of flavors, from mild to spicy.
Types of Garlic
- Hardneck Garlic
- Softneck Garlic
- Asiatic Hardneck
- Creole Hardneck
- Glazed Purple Stripe Hardneck
- Marbled Purple Stripe Hardeck
- Middle Eastern Hardneck
- Porcelain Hardneck
- Purple Stripe Hardneck
- Rocambole Hardneck
- Turban Hardneck
- Silverskin Softneck
- Artichoke Softneck
Finding the best types of garlic to use in your dishes can make a huge difference in flavor.
Now that you’re a garlic expert, you’ll know which garlic goes best in a meal. When choosing garlic, you have more options than you’d expect!
From mild varieties to aggressively hot choices, there’s a perfect type of garlic to make your cooking pop.
Learn another basic ingredient to use, like different types of onions to cook with!