To ensure quality why not grow your own garlic? People on the coalface, from growers through to greengrocers, suggest that the market is “flooded” with imported garlic and it’s cheap and healthy-looking, with big, chunky bulbs and often with a flawless white appearance. Why wouldn’t you buy it? Indeed, why would you even care where it comes from?
According to Henry Bell, executive officer at the Australian Garlic Industry Association, there are several reasons to at least pause for thought. “Whether you’re looking for taste and flavour or whether you’re looking for blood-science benefits,” he says, “the key is freshness. And if you’re buying imported garlic then sometimes you’re even getting last year’s crop.” He points out that it may have been picked and cool-stored, treated with growth inhibitors to stop it sprouting on the shelf, bleached with chlorine to make it look white and healthy, and has by law been fumigated with methyl bromide to kill bugs and plant matter.*
What do I look for when I’m choosing garlic?
Be careful when you purchase garlic. Look for bulbs that are firm, with tight skins and are not ‘dried-out’. Also look for brightness or vibrance in colour. Garlic is divided into two main types, hard neck and soft neck. The main difference between these two is that hard necks produce a flower stem (called a scape) which can also be eaten, they have fewer but larger cloves which are easy to peel, have a well-developed flavour but don’t store as long (usually 4-7 months). Soft necks usually don’t form a flower stem, they have more cloves but are smaller and more difficult to peel but store longer (usually between 8-12 months).
How to grow garlic
Garlic is best grown by dividing an existing bulb and planting out the cloves. Make sure you purchase your bulbs from a nursery or an organic source as the imported garlic you buy from the supermarket is usually fumigated to stop it sprouting.
Garlic needs a free draining soil with plenty of organic matter and a pH of between 6 and 7. Divide your garlic bulb in to cloves and select the largest ones to plant out.
Plant garlic cloves flat side down, a few cm below the soil surface and space them about 15cm apart with 20cm between rows.
When you’ve planted your garlic give the bed a light watering then don’t water any more until your cloves have sprouted and you can see the first bits of green sticking up above the soil.
Only water your garlic over winter if the soil feels dry. It will take about 7-8 months for your garlic to be ready for harvesting. In the meantime keep your garlic bed weed free as garlic doesn’t like competition. It is recommended to cover the bed with cane mulch.
Autumn is the best time to plant your garlic cloves.
How do I store my garlic?
Store your bulbs in a dry place with good ventilation and away from intense light and direct sun. They can then last for up to six months. Note: Once the clove has begun sprouting, much of the sulphurous energy has gone into producing the shoot and the clove has lost most of its potency. So whether you’re hoping to cook with it or use it as a natural health remedy, the fresher you get it, the better it will be.
Cooking with garlic
And the taste? Garlic, like onions and other alliums, is made up of a range of enzymes and remarkably volatile sulphur compounds, which remain relatively inert until they are mixed. That is, once crushed or chopped, the compounds mix and react with the enzymes, accounting for the pungent sulphurous odour and that fantastic, rich taste. This volatility also explains the different effects you get from garlic depending on how you use it: whether you bake it whole (resulting in a sweet, nutty effect), add it to the pan early and fry it (aromatic and infused), or add it towards the end of cooking or eat it raw (bitingly pungent).
* The Age Fresher and smellier July 19, 2005