Garlic (Allium sativum common garlic) is part of the "lily" family and is closely related to shallots, garlic-chives, and leeks. The bulb is made of a series of bulblets called cloves. The garlic bulb has a papery exterior skin that varies in color from white to purple. There are many varieties of garlic with the "sativum" or "softneck" being the most common variety. Garlic has been cultivated since ancient times. It was said that Egyptian masters fed garlic to the slaves to increase the worker's physical power. In modern times it is used as a popular flavoring in cooking. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Garlic's medicinal uses include digestive stimulant, diuretic, and antispasmodic. Additionally, many studies have been done to show the value of garlic when used to prevent certain forms of cancer as well as beneficial to heart health.

Garlic Varieties

There are many varieties of garlic available.  The most common (and most pungent) variety is the white skinned garlic grown mostly in the U.S. The slightly less pungent purple skinned garlic is grown in Mexico and Italy.  Most of the garlic in the United States is grown in California, Louisiana, and Texas. The other largest world wide producers are France, Spain, Italy and Mexico.  Another type of garlic you may find in your grocery store is Elephant garlic.  This large bulb is really a type of "leek" and does not have a very strong garlic flavor.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic (stalkless) is the most common and popular garlic variety.  It is the easiest to grow being very adaptable in a variety of climates and soils. These types of garlic are very productive and produce many smaller cloves per plant than other varieties and also are very popular for braiding. The garlic flavor ranges from very mild to very hot and lack the subtle but more complex flavors of the hardneck varieties. Softneck garlic can be stored longer than any other type, in fact, up to 10 months under optimum conditions.  Two categories of this type include Artichoke garlic and Silverskin.  Softneck garlic can be spring planted in some regions with "limited" success. 

Hardneck Garlic

The Hardneck garlic produces a "woody" flower stalk.  The cloves are much larger than the Softneck and easier to peel.  Garlic of this type have more complex and interesting flavor than other varieties.  This variety does not keep as long, in fact, a midsummer harvest may only store until January. 

Many Ways To Use Garlic

You can vary the amount of garlic flavor released by how you prepare the garlic. The more juices and oils extracted, the more garlic flavor will be incorporated into the food.

  • Pressing - Garlic put through a garlic press or pureed release the most garlic oils and therefore provides the strongest garlic flavor.
  • Crushing - Releases the pungent flavor and natural juices of garlic. Good for use in sauces when you want a strong garlic flavor.
  • Minced - Finely minced garlic will release more oils than chopped or sliced garlic, but less than pressed or crushed. Great for flavoring oil to be used for sautéing.
  • Chopped - The chopping process does not extract a large amount of juice or oil.  The amount of flavor obtained will depend on how small the garlic is chopped and allowed to dissolve in the cooking process.  This method is good for use in salsas and stir-frys.
  • Slicing - Slices or larger pieces of garlic won't completely dissolve when cooked resulting in a lighter garlic flavor.
  • Browning - Garlic browned in oil imparts a very strong nutty favorite.  While some recipes suggest browning others will warn against it. Try browning some minced garlic in a small amount of olive oil and see if you like the flavor.

Garlic In Many Forms

  1. Fresh - Purchase in the grocery store or grow your own.
  2. Peeled Cloves - Look for in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. 
  3. Powdered - This is garlic that has been dried and pulverized. Adds a mild garlic flavor to foods. 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equal to approximately 1 minced garlic clove.
  4. Dehydrated Flakes - This is minced garlic which has been dried.  It can be added to foods before cooking or it can be put in water and rehydrated before use.   This form of garlic gives much of the garlic flavor with a similar texture when rehydrated. 1/2 teaspoon is equivalent to 1 garlic clove.
  5. Puree - Mashed fresh garlic preserved in a jar. 
  6. Garlic Juice/Extract - This is just the liquid from pressed garlic. It is available in a spray bottle.
  7. Infused Garlic Oil - This is made of vegetable or olive oil with minced garlic added.  To make your own, add 1 teaspoon or more finely minced garlic to one cup of vegetable or olive oil.  Allow to sit for 24 hours before using for maximum flavor.

Green Garlic

green garlicGarlic is available "green" as a spring crop. Garlic at this growth stage looks like a scallion (green onion) and is very mild.  Read More about Green Garlic, from GourmetSleuth. The article includes how to use, store, and grow your own garlic. Includes links to many more recipes as well.

Nutrition Information For Garlic

Serving Size
1 cup
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g
Saturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 23mg
Total Carbohydrate 45g
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 1g
Protein 9g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Garlic Breath

When we eat garlic the essential oils actually are absorbed into our lung tissue.  This is why attempts to mask the odor are mostly futile.  You may want to try eating some other aromatic herbs such as parsley, or basil.  Though this may take away the garlic flavor from your mouth you will probably still "breath out" a garlic odor. Keep a supply of small strong breath mints handy and stay out of crowded elevators.

Garlic Equivalents

1 head or bulb = (about)  10 cloves.

1 clove = 1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon Chopped =

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder  
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic juice

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.