Garlic is part of the allium genus which has around 400 varieties
including onions and leeks. These include many different forms of
garlic. The most commonly cultivated and eaten form of garlic is
Note that elephant garlic and
garlic are diferent plants rather than varieties of allium whilst black garlic is
ordinary garlic that has undergone special treatment.
There are two sub-varieties of allium sativum: softneck garlic
and hardneck garlic.
Softneck Garlic Varieties
Softneck garlic is the most commonly found and its botanical name
is simply allium sativum var. sativum.
Almost all supermarket garlic is a softneck variety. This is because
softneck garlic is easier to grow and plant mechanically and also
keeps for longer than hardneck. garlic. Softnecks are recognised by
the white papery skin and an abundance of cloves, often forming
several layers around the central core.
The flexible stalk also allows softneck garlic to be formed into
garlic braids (plaits).
There are two main types of softneck garlic: silverskin and
artichoke. Silverskin garlic is most common simply because
it's easier to grow and keeps longer. Artichoke garlic tends
to have fewer but larger cloves and a milder flavour. The
artichoke garlic bulb wrappers are coarser than those of
silverskins and sometimes have purple blotches.
Hardneck Garlic Varieties
Hardneck garlic is technically known as the ophioscorodon variety
of allium sativum. The name possibly originates from the Greek
"ophis" meaning "snake". Hardneck garlics have a "scape" - stalk -
which coils from the top. On the top of this scape grow a number
of bubils which are often mistakenly referred to as garlic flowers.
Hardneck garlics have fewer, larger cloves then the softnecks.
They also have less of an outer bulb wrapper, sometimes none
at all. This makes them more sensitive and reduces their shelf
There are three main types of hardneck garlic: rocambole, porcelain
and purple stripe. Rocambole garlic usually has up to a dozen
cloves of a tan or browny colour. Porcelain garlic has a satiny
white wrapper and the fewest cloves in a bulb, perhaps as few
as four very large cloves. Porcelain garlic is often mistaken for
elephant garlic. Purple stripe
garlic is highly distinctive because of its colouring, with
bright purple markings.