Most of us are used to seeing garlic bulbs and cloves that are white in color. So it can be disconcerting for someone only used to such garlic to come across garlic with distinctive purple skin and even purple streaks on the garlic cloves beneath.
This guide examines the whole question of purple garlic and whether you should be concerned about the freshness or nutritive quality of such garlic in your food.
What is Purple Garlic?
Purple garlic is a different variety of garlic. But, as some people think, it is not garlic that has gone bad or become deficient in certain nutrients in the growing process.
Purple garlic is a special category known as hard neck garlic. These varieties differ from the standard soft neck garlic in that they feature a central stalk that hardens and grows taller than what is usual with soft neck varieties.
Is Purple Garlic Particular to Certain Regions?
Yes, purple garlic grows under very specific climatic conditions. However, crop historians generally accept that this variety of garlic originated in western and central parts of the Asian continent.
Today this variety of garlic is grown in different regions of the world. It requires much cooler climates than is the case with soft neck garlic.
The first historical accounts of the cultivation and consumption of purple hard neck garlic originate from Baja Peninsula in Mexico. It is generally agreed that the crop was brought here by Spanish missionaries who had learned of its cultivation on the Indian subcontinent.
Is Purple Skin on Garlic a Sign That It is Gone Bad?
Purple skin on garlic is not an indication that such garlic bulbs have gone bad. Indeed, purple streaks are often seen on the surface of purple garlic cloves, not just the outer skin.
It is true that when garlic goes bad or has a fungal or bacterial infection, there are stains and discoloration that appear on the skin and on the cloves. However, these discolorations are rarely (if ever) purple in appearance. It is a lot more common to find black, yellow, brown, green, or bluish stains and discolorations on garlic bulbs that have gone bad.
Comparing White and Purple Garlic
It is easy to distinguish between common white garlic and the more rare and prized purple hard neck garlic.
This is the garlic you are likely to find in grocery stores and supermarkets. When it is fresh, white garlic bulbs and cloves inside appear distinctly white. Each white garlic bulb contains an upward of ten cloves tightly packed together and surrounded by papery, white skin.
On the other hand, purple garlic has larger cloves than white garlic. It is very rare for purple hard neck garlic bulbs to contain more than ten cloves.
It is so rare to buy purple hard neck garlic in stores because, as with other hard neck varieties, it has a relatively short shelf life.
The Major Differences Between Ordinary White Garlic and Purple Garlic
The following is a summary of the major differences between white and purple hard neck garlic.
Appearance and Size
Other than the distinct color of purple garlic, it is also noticeable that the bulbs are less rounded than those of white garlic. The skin is also more fleshy than the papery version seen on white garlic.
People who have not experienced purple garlic before have often mistaken the bulbs for onion ones. This is especially so with purple garlic bulbs with a skin that is uniformly purple-tinged as opposed to some varieties which only feature purple streaks on an otherwise white-skinned bulbs and cloves.
Purple garlic has a much fuller and more intense flavor profile compared to ordinary garlic. When you prepare the garlic for your meals, you will notice that it produces a more pungent smell, and its essence is much stickier.
All garlic varieties are prized not only for their taste but also for their nutritional value. Chiefly, this has to do with the number of antioxidants contained in each kind.
Some claim purple garlic is much more nutritious than white garlic. However, there are others who contend that the exact opposite is true.
If we are to restrict ourselves to a relative abundance of antioxidants in both purple and white garlic, the distinction is less clear. While purple garlic has a greater abundance of antioxidants such as anthocyanins, white garlic varieties are a lot richer in selenium.
Some purple garlic varieties have a greater abundance of some nutrients than others too. Instead of settling for a generalized conclusion that one variety is superior to the other in terms of nutritional value, it is more helpful to find out what you need from garlic and then identify the variety which best meets your particular nutritional needs.
While this is not a definitive test, the more pungent the garlic is, the more potent its antiseptic properties because all varieties of purple garlic are a lot more pungent and are more effective in eliminating microorganisms such as bacteria.
People who eat raw garlic to enjoy the antibacterial properties associated with the pungent vegetable prefer eating purple garlic, not white garlic.
Fresh garlic has a lot more antibacterial potency than dried and powdered forms. It also supersedes the antibacterial capacity of cooked or roasted garlic.
If you cannot withstand the unpleasantness of the taste of raw garlic, you can add condiments such as mint to make it more palatable. You can also crush or mince the cloves and mix them with your soups, sauces, and deserts, and you will enjoy the antibacterial benefits without having to put up with an unpleasant pungency.
Longevity after Harvest
Garlic is one of the few vegetable varieties that can be stored for a long time and retain its freshness and nutritional value. The antibacterial properties of the garlic cloves make it harder for bacteria and other microorganisms from attaching to the cloves. The concentric layers of the outer skin also help in the preservation of the freshness.
Even if purple garlic has more antibacterial compounds, it does not have a long shelf life as white garlic. This is because its outer skin layers are much fleshier than white varieties. They do not offer the same sort of long-term protection from the action of the elements and microorganisms.
Varieties of Purple Garlic
Purple garlic varieties are mainly distinguished from one another depending on where they were grown.
Spanish Purple Garlic
Spanish purple garlic is known as Ajo Morado and is grown in and around the city of Cuenca. The garlic variety has plumpish bulbs containing distinctly purple cloves.
Spanish purple garlic has a flavor described as distinctly citrusy. It is mild in terms of pungency but perfectly suited for such Spanish recipes as gazpacho and garlic shrimp.
Italian Purple Garlic
Italian purple garlic is a variety of purple stripe garlic, which shares a lot more features with soft neck garlic varieties than hard necks. As with other purple stripe garlic varieties, Italian purple garlic grows well in mild, mid-temperate climates.
The variety is known not only for its distinctive color but also for its mid-range garlic smell and a slightly milder flavor than other purple garlic varieties.
Mexican Purple Garlic
Mexican purple garlic is the most common variety of hard neck garlic available for Americans. You can find it at some specialty markets and even farmers’ markets in many cities across America.
Mexican purple garlic is sourced from both Mexico and Peru. It thrives in the high altitudes of the Mexican highlands and the Peruvian Andes.
Why Did My Garlic Turn Blue?
If your garlic in storage turns from its normal white coloring to blue, it may be due to excessive humidity. Garlic cloves contain anthocyanins which are water-soluble pigments and can turn blue in watery or acidic conditions.
This phenomenon is, however, more pronounced in immature garlic than in fully grown garlic. Unless the coloring has spread to the inner cloves, it is safe to eat the garlic, and its spicy flavor should be virtually unchanged.
Can I Plant Purple Garlic at Home?
It is possible to plant garlic at home. Garlic plants are hardy and do not require too much care and attention. While providing plenty of water once the green sprouts streak out, it becomes less essential as the plants mature.
Purple garlic may not be as popular as white garlic, but it is an important culinary condiment. While white garlic is more popular owing to its longer shelf life, purple garlic has more flavor and suits a variety of cooking options. Whether you grow the garlic at home or would rather have it grocery store-bought, you are likely to enjoy it and get hooked on its unforgettable flavor.