Garlic Varieties - What's the Difference?

variety of garlic

There are three main garlic varieties, each with their own unique properties.

  • Softneck Garlic
  • Hardneck Garlic
  • Elephant Garlic

In most cases, softneck garlic varieties are probably the most commonly grown varieties in the backyard vegetable garden.  They have several good qualities including storage, taste and ease of growing.  Hardneck varieties are less popular for home gardeners, but they deliver larger cloves with thinner skins.  Elephant garlic is slightly less common in home gardens, but it is certainly a viable crop that produces mild flavors.

Common Garlic Varieties

Bowl of Garlic Cloves

Softneck Garlic is probably the most common type of garlic. It is the variety found most often in the grocery store. Softneck garlic usually features a white, paper-like skin. The head is comprised of several layers of garlic cloves surrounding the core. The leaves are soft and flexible throughout maturity. This is probably the easiest type of garlic to grow in a backyard vegetable garden. Varieties of softneck garlic feature a fairly strong taste and sweet, pungent odor. Most garlic heads that have been braided together are softneck varieties. Here are some softneck garlic varieties that are usually easy to find:

  • California Early - easy to grow, mild flavor, great for storage, 10-16 cloves per head, off-white skins with purple blush
  • California Late - demonstrates good heat tolerance, good variety for beginners, maybe most common variety found in USA, 12-16 cloves per head, stronger flavor than California Early
  • Silver White - excellent for storage and can last for 9-12 months if properly cured, good for braiding, 12-18 cloves per bulb, red blush color on skins
  • Early Red Italian - bulbs tinted with crimson blush, not as spicy as other varieties, 11-21 cloves per head
  • Inchelium Red - discovered on an Indian reservation in Washington state, 8-20 cloves per bulb, slightly spicy,
  • Italian Late - features tight skin which makes for good long-term storage, strong and pungent flavor, 10-20 cloves per head
  • Lorz Italian - brought from Italy in the mid 19th century, slightly hot and spicy, full of flavor, 12-19 cloves per bulb
  • Polish - medium spice, full of garlic flavor, large for a softneck variety, silky white skins with sometimes pink or purple blush, 10-12 cloves per head
  • Western Rose - features purple skin and creamy white cloves, smaller bulbs than other softneck varieties, slightly spicy
  • Susanville - mild garlic flavor, white skins with pink blush, excellent choice for roasting, stores 6-9 months
  • Creole - purple skins, originated in Spain, stores 10-12 months, sweet with a little heat, good choice for southern gardens

Hardneck Garlic is a less common garlic type. It features tan or purple markings. Varieties of hardneck garlic usually produce larger and fewer cloves on each head. They feature a fairly strong taste and sweet, pungent odor. Hardneck garlic also generally has thinner, skin that is easy to remove. Hardneck garlic does not usually store as well for long periods of time as softneck varieties. In addition, the stems are rigid at maturity.  Hardneck varieties produce a scape that should be removed while the plant is growing to encourage better bulb growth.  Here are some hardneck garlic varieties that are usually easy to find:

  • German Extra Hearty - very reliable, good for cold climates, 5-8 large cloves per bulb, white skins, easy to peel
  • Purple Glazer - purple skins tinged with silver hues, well-rounded flavors with some heat and sweetness, averages 8 cloves per head
  • Bavarian Purple - dark purple skins, fairly hot if eaten raw, great for roasting, early season type
  • Persian Star - tolerates diverse climates, somewhat rare variety from Uzbekistan, 9-12 cloves per bulb, light colored bulbs with purple streaks
  • Duganski - spicy flavor that mellows quickly, purple striped skins, 8-9 cloves per head, strong garlic smell
  • Georgian Fire - very spicy, good for salsa or other raw applications, 4-6 cloves per bulb, easy to peel
  • Uzbekistani - plants are shorter than other hardneck varieties, not good for storage, moderate heat and sweetness, purple streaks, mid-season variety
  • Blanak - 4-6 cloves per head, 6-8 month storage, solid garlic flavor with plenty of sweet and heat, easy to peel
  • German Red - purple skins, robust garlic flavor, good choice for cold climates, 8-10 cloves per bulb
  • Music - stores 9-12 months, medium heat and good flavor, 5-7 cloves per bulb, easy to peel 
  • Siberian - medium spice and full of flavor, good musky smell, moderate storer, averages 6 cloves per head
  • Metechi - 5-7 cloves per bulb, purple-blushed skin, bold garlic flavor
  • Spanish Roja - easy to peel, hot and spicy, plants can reach 4 feet tall, 8-10 cloves per head
  • Deerfield Purple - purple striped skin, high sugar content, good for roasting, 8-10 cloves per bulb
  • Mount Hood - large white bulbs are easy to peel, tinges of pink or purple on the skin, 
  • Chinese Pink - early variety, mellow but flavorful, good storage, 6-8 cloves per bulb
  • Vietnamese Red - mildly spicy, high sugar content, stores well, purple streaks on skin, 9-12 cloves per head

Elephant Garlic is a variety commonly found in grocery stores. It features a very large head that is comprised of very large cloves. In fact, some cloves of elephant garlic can reach about the same size as a whole head of softneck or hardneck varieties. We've even heard of some elephant garlic heads reaching the size of a softball!  Some people assume that because of it's large size, elephant garlic has a much more intense flavor than standard garlic varieties. These people would be WRONG! Elephant garlic is known for it's very subtle flavor and mild odor. In fact, some garlic purists equate the taste of elephant garlic more with leeks or shallots than with other types of garlic.

Click on the following links to learn more about growing your own garlic.

Different Garlic Varieties

Click here to learn about planting garlic

Click here for information about watering and fertilizing garlic plants

Click here to learn about harvesting garlic

Click here for some garlic recipe ideas

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