We have so much confusion when it comes to defining the “identity” of some fruits and vegetables. Take, for instance, our sweet beloved watermelon, a fruit or a vegetable?! And, what about the “identity” of tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins among others?! Truth be told, many have these kitchen questions for garlic too whether garlic is an herb, a vegetable or a spice. Bad news, the answer is not a clear one as you might think and expect.
When thinking of garlic, people have many misconceptions and label it as an herb or spice as it rarely is eaten raw and more often added to other meals so they can add flavor to the dish or even boost the nutritional value of a dish. Since garlic is rarely eaten on its own, people classify garlic as a vegetable.
According to Organic Facts, garlic falls into the family of vegetables even though people keep debating on the matter. This makes garlic the best example of what the flexibility of defining the food we eat is.
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So, what exactly is Garlic?
The plant that we use so much in the cuisine which is intense, aromatic and uniquely flavorful is part of the allium family which contains onions, scallions, leeks, shallots, and chives according to Your Health. Garlic is covered in an inedible papery skin, while the bulb, or head, is made of sections which are called cloves. These cloves are themselves enclosed in a paperlike skin, and the pale yellowish flesh within is the part of the garlic that is used in cooking.
Unofficially speaking, people rarely eat garlic raw and when they do, it has a powerful sharp flavor. Garlic is mostly used more as a flavoring ingredient in recipes rather than as the main ingredient itself.
Dave Kozlowski of Pinehold Gardens says that farming garlic is a bit different from most of the other plants he grows. This is how he jokes regarding garlic as a plant:
Garlic is such an interesting plant…because it is a vegetable, but it’s not; and it’s a spice and a herb, but it’s not; and it’s a medicinal plant, but it’s not. It’s all of those but it’s none of those – it’s garlic.
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Why is garlic not an herb or a spice?
When searching what the meaning of herb is, you will end up with the definitions of “Any plant with leaves seeds or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.” While, when you search for the meaning of the word spice, the meaning “An aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food specifically in the dried form e.g., cloves, pepper, or mace.” So, according to these definitions, garlic is a vegetable, not consumed on its own.
Varieties of Garlic
According to WebMD, there are approximately 300 varieties of garlic grown throughout the world. In the United States, about 90% of the garlic is grown in California and most comes in two types, early and late.
Early garlic is white or off-white in color and harvested in mid-summer. Late garlic is off-white on the outside
American: white-skinned with a strong flavor.
Chileno: reddish-colored, sharp-tasting garlic grown in Mexico.
Elephant: Not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek; its flavor is very mild and it is characterized by larger heads.
Green Garlic: Young garlic before it starts forming cloves. Green garlic looks like a baby leek with a long green top and small white bulb. Its flavor is much milder than that of mature garlic.
Italian: Mauve in color with a somewhat milder flavor.
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