When selecting garlic, you may be surprised by the variety that's available. There's no need to be overwhelmed though, as garlic can be split into two main categories. Hardneck and softneck garlic have different taste profiles, and choosing the right type is essential if you want to preserve the overall flavour of your favourite dishes. Here's an overview of the differences between hardneck and softneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic bulbs have a central stalk that becomes rigid after the garlic is picked and cured. It's hardier than softneck garlic and can grow well in colder regions and through the winter. Hardneck bulbs tend to consist of six to ten large cloves, which makes them quick and easy to peel, and they have a deep, pungent flavour that works well when roasted alongside other strongly flavoured ingredients, such as venison or bone-in roasts. Only hardneck varieties produce garlic scapes, which are long green stems that have a milder flavour than the bulb itself and can be used in pesto or sautéed with leafy greens. Examples of hardneck varieties include marino bulbs, which have a slightly sweet undertone, and Spanish roja, which has a very strong flavour due to containing high levels of allicin.
Softneck garlic bulbs have leafy stalks and require a mild climate to grow. Each bulb consists of around a dozen small cloves, and this variety of garlic has a longer shelf life than hardneck bulbs. Softneck garlic is mild in flavour and ideal for use in salad dressings or when you want to add flavour to white fish or poultry without overpowering the main ingredients. Examples of softneck varieties include inchelium red artichoke, which is mild enough to be enjoyed raw in salads, and nootka rose silverskin, which is on the stronger end of the flavour scale for a softneck and works well in stir-fries.
When selecting garlic, consider what you intend to use it for and check the bulbs for freshness before using them. Regardless of whether you have hardneck or softneck varieties, garlic should feel firm to the touch and there should be no brown spots on the peeled cloves. The skin should show no signs of turning yellow or brown and bulbs should not have any sour scent. If you have a bulb that's showing signs of being spoiled, remove it immediately from your other bulbs to prevent them from being contaminated. To keep your garlic fresh for as long as possible, store it in a dry, dark place with adequate air circulation as light and moisture can promote mould growth.
To buy garlic, visit grocery stores in your area or browse specialty produce stores online.