Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Garlic is Just Garlic, Right?


2006 san francisco farmers market juicy garlic tasting
Have you ever stopped to think about the garlic you buy? Like tomatoes, like peaches and like potatoes, there are many different varieties of this pungent vegetable too.

2006 san francisco farmers market juicy garlic tasting

Some are mild and some are stronger. Some bulbs have two rings of small cloves, whilst others just have one ring of larger, fatter cloves. Here, from left to right, we have:
1) The Lorz italian, a pre 1900 heirloom.
2) An Inchelium red garlic from an Indian Reservation in East Washington.
3) The "Red Toch" from Tochliavri in Georgia.

2006 san francisco farmers market juicy garlic tasting

I bought these three garlics from the Small Potatoes/Juicy Garlic stand at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market last Saturday. I was at the market early, before it was too crowded and was able to have a little chat with the farmer, Wallace Condon, about his garlics. He explained to me that he supports Seed Savers, a non-profit organisation who save and share heirloom seed. Seed Savers have several different varieties of garlic available. Condon explained to me that most commercial garlics are what are called "softnecks" but that "stiffnecks" are more interesting with a better flavour. Unfortunately the stiffneck yield is low which is why they are less common. All of the garlics Condon has for sale are the softneck type.

2006 san francisco farmers market juicy garlic tasting

Since I had three stale ears of pain epi from Acme left over from the weekend, I decided that Fred and I should conduct a garlic bread tasting test with the three different varieties of bulb. Here are the results:

Smell: Mild
Garlic Bread: Hot patches on the tongue, moderate level of pungency.
Raw: Very strong, very hot. A long, long hotness and after-taste.

Smell: Very mild and green.
Garlic Bread: Mild taste but with aftertaste. Slight fishiness in the flavour.
Raw: Hints of green, hot but short burn and long-lasting pungency.

Red Toch:
Smell: Extremely mild, barely detectable garlic smell.
Garlic Bread: Almost transparent as far as garlic goes, no bite, slightly sweet.
Raw: Slightly hot when tasted raw with a longer-lasting burn.

It has been an interesting excercise to compare and contrast these garlics and have the opportunity to judge which dish would benefit from which garlic. Often we don't have a choice or this kind of information at our fingertips when making our garlic purchases. Condon, of Small Potatoes, told me that he probably had only about two weeks worth of garlic left for sale at the market. So... you'll have to get in there quick if you want to taste the differences for yourself.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Garlic | from Small Potatoes
Bread | from Acme
Share Heirloom Seeds | Seed Savers

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: A note from the chef at Range.

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Garlic is Just Garlic, Right?


  • At 16/8/06 09:59, Blogger Unknown said…

    I once had a professor in college who showed us a variety of edible heirloom fruits and vegetables. An apple whose flesh was bright pink. Fava beans that were purple with blue spots! Fuzzy pears!
    All edible, but not remotely profitable to the everyday farmer, so they're on the verge of extinction.

    Makes you wonder just what else there might be out there.

  • At 16/8/06 10:20, Blogger wheresmymind said…

    Ever had elephant garlic?

  • At 16/8/06 10:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There's a " garlic professor " living around here, i read about him in the Chronicle a couple years ago. According to him, there are hundrets of varieties of garlic worldwide, he himself is growing almost 100 different ones !

    I did a search in the Chronicle achives, here's the article I talked about.

  • At 16/8/06 10:36, Blogger Catherine said…

    Very interesting piece, Sam! Makes me want to grow my own. Lovely photos too.

  • At 16/8/06 10:43, Blogger RadiationWatch said…

    One kind that I see here (other side of atlantic) quite a lot that I rarely seem to see over there (that side of atlantic) is the purple-skinned kind. I think this one is the most delicious somehow. I also like the huge bulb elephant garlic that's so mild you can almost eat it raw. (that is if you are garlic tolerant.)

  • At 16/8/06 10:56, Blogger Alanna Kellogg said…

    Fascinating! I've been noticing the funny-looking stiff necks at the farmers market and just this week read that they're easier to grow in a Missouri climate. Now I know to pick up a few! If for no other reason than it's almost time to plop some cloves in the ground to grow your own ...

  • At 16/8/06 11:42, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so glad that you're writing about domestic garlic! The bulk (65+%) of the garlic in on the market is grown in China. The US-grown, lesser-known varieties are quite different, and display such a range of flavor. What a great taste test!

    And Seed Savers rocks. They're doing great work.

  • At 16/8/06 11:58, Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said…

    Wally Condon is one of my local culinary heroes -- he's the champion of unsexy heirlooms.

    When his grey shallots come back, give them a whirl -- you won't believe you've put up with the bland things that pass for shallots in the megamart.

  • At 16/8/06 13:15, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good grief - all that garlic and garlic bread, looks like a great taste-testing flavor-thon!

  • At 16/8/06 13:16, Blogger shelly said…

    I bought 3 garlics from him a few weeks ago. Amazing how different the varieties are. I am definitely hooked :).

  • At 16/8/06 22:06, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting! So much garlic seems to come from China these days!? I'd love to go to that Garlic festival out your way...This post makes me want to go over to the Union Square Farmer's market and try what they have on. THANKS
    Paris Breakfasts

  • At 17/8/06 01:13, Blogger Zarah Maria said…

    Cool! Wish I could get stuff like that here...

  • At 17/8/06 04:03, Blogger Collin said…

    What a great post!
    We grew some garlic last year....&, uh....lets just say it was very...different. :)

  • At 17/8/06 05:44, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    paris breakfast... you really should romp over to union sq. the hardneck garlic
    (most common out here on our coast) has been simply FANTASTIC this year!

    if you go on a saturday, look for a cute lady named betsy at the north end of the market.
    i've decided her garlic is hands down the best this year... no clue what she's doing to make it so, but, wow, it's just been knock your socks off good!
    yay Sam, great post about my favorite topic ever!

  • At 17/8/06 06:37, Blogger Vanessa said…

    This may be beside the point, but your garlic photos with the black background are terrific! So lovely and they make you really LOOK at this most favoritest of herbs.

  • At 17/8/06 08:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Glad Ralph discovered Chester Aaron, a friend from my past, a very good writer, and a garlic genius. He has done so much to save varieties and introduce them to us. His book is a fine one to add to a kitchen library.

  • At 17/8/06 11:14, Blogger Sam said…

    garrett - i think it is great that you can get hold of these kinfds of more interesting varieties from local farmers.

    wmm - I have, but, it never really struck a chord with me.

    ralph - that's great - thanks for the link.

    catherine - i thought exactly the same thing but not sure if my deck is the right place to do that.

    maki - good point - the putple skinned variety is the one I was most used to in the UK

    AK - I havent seen te stiff necked ones - maybe you could post a photo?

    jennifer - i had no idea that most garlic comes from China. Seed Savers are definitely worth exploring. I just wished I was more of a green-fingered gardening type.

    ANita - thanks for the tip - cant wait to check out his shallots, now.

    ellie - yes - I am glad I managed to get fred to join me else I might not have been too popular in our household!

    Shelly - that makes two of us!

    Anon - i havent been to that festival - it was a couple of weeks ago in Gilroy, btw.

    Zarah - thanks for helping me remember how lucky we are in the Bay Area.

    Collin - I am intrigued !

    Ann - thanks for the New York advice.

    vanessa - i though a black background wouls work really well for these pics and luckily they turned out.

    Kudzu - I tthink I am going to have to check that book out.

  • At 19/8/06 17:52, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the explanations, I was there last Saturday, saw the stand, but didn't stop to ask.

    I remember buying purple garlic in Paris, it was great!

  • At 22/8/06 06:24, Blogger Jeanne said…

    What a fab post Sam! I just adore garlic (no meal is complete without it!) but have never attempted a comparative garlic tasting. I must go an see what's available at Borough before the summer is out - would love to try this with some of the varieties they have there...

  • At 26/8/06 07:17, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmm.Makes me want to go and dig out some varieties of garlic here too.
    Thanks for the idea Sam.

  • At 30/8/06 13:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    garlic growing is fun and easy, one year we grew hundreds of elephant garlic, what a nice gift to give loved ones, and ohhh so big and tasty...

    one year we went to a garlic festival and bought 25 or so kinds and planted all, had great time...

    we prefer hard necks to soft necks as with hard neck harvesting is so easy, you just pull out... softnecks might break if you are a bit late during harvest season, hence gold digging ;))


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