It was on a fun excursion to the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, New York that first opened my eyes to the diverse world of garlic. Walking around the festival, I saw vendors selling all different kinds of garlic. I also enjoyed a lot of great music and sampled every kind of garlic concoction imaginable, from wonderful garlic pesto to pickled garlic (which I made my husband try first).
There I met people from the Garlic Seed Foundation. They were presenting a study on garlic sustainability and the 10 distinct varieties of garlic: Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Creole, Asiatic, Turban, Artichoke, and Silverskin. These garlic varieties differ in size, color, shape, taste, number of cloves per bulb, pungency, and storability.
Based on the latest research (2003) of Gayle Volk, Phd, who classified garlic with DNA analysis, all the hundreds of sub-varieties came from these ten basic groups that originated in the Caucasus Mountain Region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Their individual characteristics have evolved over time as they spread across Asia and Europe.
Immigrants from Poland, Germany, and Italy brought a few kinds of garlic to America over the centuries, but most of the varieties came to the United States as recent at 1989, when the Soviet Union opened the Caucasus Region to the United States Department of Agriculture. These rare garlic varieties are virtually unknown to most people, whose garlic experience is dictated by the supermarket suppliers who buy cheap garlic produced for mass markets.
Ironically, the supermarket variety of garlic (usually a silverskin, one of the longest storing garlics) sprouts shortly after you get it home, because its long storability has already been used up in refridgeration and shipping before its put out for you to purchase.