All though there are several hundred different varieties under cultivation and several varieties of wild garlic as well, we generally view garlic as belonging to one of two types, the hard neck garlic and the soft neck garlic. There are several varieties of each of these types we're likely to be familiar with, but many varieties are not terribly familiar. One of the types we see in the supermarket on occasion is the very large Elephant garlic, which, although it has a garlic-like flavor is in truth not a garlic, but a leek.
Hard Neck, Soft Neck, And In-Between - The hard neck and soft neck types are genuine garlic. Garlic belongs to the species Allium Sativum, and the hard and soft neck types are two subspecies, Ophioscorodon and Sativum, respectively. Some of the more familiar varieties of the hard neck species include several Purple Stripe varieties, the Porcelain, and the Rocambole. Two distinctive soft neck groups are the Artichoke and Silverskin garlic. Three types of garlic that have both hard neck and soft neck characteristics are the Creole, Asiatic and Turban garlic.
Garlic plants are generally easy to grow, if you select the right variety. Some do well in warmer climates while others do better in cooler climates, and the cloves or bulbs will die in the ground if the weather is too warm. Garlic cloves can either be eaten raw or cooked. The strength of the cloves varies according to the variety, although of the two types of garlic, the hard neck varieties are generally stronger in taste. The flowers and leaves of the plants can be eaten as well, although most eat only the cloves or bulbs.
Hard Neck Garlic - Of the hard neck varieties, the porcelain garlic are probably the most attractive, They are the garlic found in the supermarket noted for their thick parchment like outer skins. The cloves, which make up the bulb, are usually fairly large, there typically being five cloves per bulb.
Rocambole garlic are not nearly as attractive as are the porcelains but some consider them better tasting. They have a tendency to be anywhere from off-white to brownish in color with purplish streaks or splotches. Rocamboles tend to be quite strong and hot.
Soft Neck Garlic - Of the soft neck types of garlic it is the artichoke garlic that is most commonly found in stores. The cloves are smaller than is the case with the porcelain, but the bulbs are still quite large, and consequently there are many more cloves. Of all the garlic varieties, the artichokes are considered the easiest to row, with California being a major producer of the variety.
Silverskins are another popular soft neck garlic and are often displayed in braids. Silverskins are among the best garlic for storing. Silverskins with few exceptions tend to be very hot varieties.
Medicinal And Culinary Uses - Whether you choose hard neck or soft neck types of garlic , you have a plant that has a rich history, both as a medicinal plant and as a culinary one. In olden times, strings of garlic (presumably Silverskins) were worn around one's neck to ward of spirits. If the cloves were ever crushed, it's fair to say that people probably kept their distance as well. Garlic is also thought to be somewhat effective in preventing high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. While such claims are seemingly far fetched, they do seem to have some validity, if for no other reason than garlic is exceeding rich in vitamin C. vitamin B6, fiber, and carbohydrates, and is a very good source for a number of essential minerals - zinc, calcium, and magnesium to name three. As far as culinary uses are concerned, the list is practically endless. If you are wondering when people started using garlic, you can find the history of garlic here. It is amazing that people started using garlic such long time ago and that they knew the medical benefits of it.