Garlic is a cousin to onions, leeks, chives, and shallots. A bulb or head of garlic is composed of smaller cloves. It is a root vegetable, with the bulb growing underground.
Allium sativum, a member of the lily (Liliaceae) family. The word garlic comes from the Old English garleac, meaning spear leek.
Common and Other Names:
garlic, garlick, knoblauch, ajo, ail, aglio, thum, suen tau, suan, knoflook, sir, garleag, shum, lasun, ninniku, alho, chesnok, bawang, poondoo, gratiem, katiem, sarmisak, lehsun, toi. Quaint diner slang of the 1920's referred to garlic as Bronx vanilla, halitosis, and Italian perfume.
Crops are harvested in mid-July and hung in sheds to dry before reaching their prime in late-July/early-August. Fresh and dried garlic are available year-round in most markets.
Choose heads that are firm to the touch, with no nicks or soft cloves. If you notice dark, powdery patches under the skin, pass it up since it is an indication of a common mold which will eventually spoil the flesh. Fresh garlic is more difficult to peel. As garlic ages, it shrivels inside the skin, making it easier to peel.
Garlic Varieties and Forms:
There are over 300 varieties of garlic grown worldwide. American garlic, with its white, papery skin and strong flavor is one of the most common varieties. Italian and Mexican garlic, both of which have pink- to purple-colored skins, are slightly milder-flavored varieties. Forms include whole heads, whole peeled cloves, minced fresh cloves, dried garlic powder, garlic extract, and garlic salt.
Store unpeeled garlic in an open container in a cool, dry place away from other foods. Do not refrigerate or freeze unpeeled garlic. Peeled garlic cloves may be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It is imperative that garlic in oil be stored under refrigeration to avoid potentially-deadly bacteria growth. Garlic powder should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place.
Miscellaneous Garlic Information:
Elephant garlic (allium scorodoprasum), which has very large, extremely mild-flavored cloves, is not a true garlic, but a closer relative to the leek. The smaller you chop garlic, the more pungent it becomes. Whole cooked garlic cloves are quite mild, with a nutty flavor. Studies have shown garlic can suppress the growth of tumors, and is a potent antioxidant good for cardiovascular health.