Lidl is selling a new variety of garlic, with easy-to-peel cloves. Is it worth buying – and if not, which is the best variety for you?
“Lazy garlic” – what will they think of next? Lidl is selling garlic heads, each about half the size of normal, but consisting of just one clove. What’s the point of that? “Very easy to peel and can therefore be prepared much more quickly,” says a spokesperson for the chain. The garlic is “uniquely fragrant”.
Sampling some, I thought it not very different from ordinary garlic. But it has more ka-boom than the feeble elephant garlic you see sometimes on the veg counter. It’s big and easily peeled but it is in fact a type of leek posing, rather pathetically, as a garlic.
Lidl’s solo or pearl garlic is the real thing: a version of allium sativum, the plant that worried our grandparents on trips to French restaurants and keeps vampires at bay. This variety grows as a single clove because of the planting practices and the warm climate in Yunnan, a mountainous region of southern China.
Do we need it? Probably not. Garlic peeling can be a quick and satisfying task. (Most of us just put the clove under the blade of a chopping knife and press down with the heel of the hand till the skin cracks and loosens. But others have more magical methods.) More disturbing, my local greengrocer won’t stock this or any Chinese garlic as they believe many farmers fertilise their soil with untreated human faeces.
Lidl says its garlic meets the store’s global standards. And, to be fair, the Chinese certainly know what they are doing when it comes to garlic. They domesticated the plant 7,000 years ago, and are responsible now for 80% of the world’s production. People in Northern Asian countries eat more garlic than anyone else, not least because of garlic’s reputation there as a medical remedy for everything from lung cancer to bird flu.
In recent years Chinese garlic imports “have flooded the European and American market” because – surprise, surprise – production is so much cheaper. It’s produced year-round, too. That has confused garlic lovers, who used to be able to guess the strength of the garlic by the time of the year. The longer a garlic has been stored, the stronger it is – so in late winter it was at its most invigorating. In May you get the fun of cooking with the mild “wet” or new season garlic.
It’s worth having a look around at different types of garlic – you can get very different effects with different types, in different seasons. Organic garlic is a reliable way of avoiding the bleaching that may be done to make the the bulbs look perfectly white. There are at least 70 varieties grown and most of them were developed for different environments, rather than to satisfy taste demands. Sadly there’s virtually no commercial garlic farming …
Read more here: The best garlic varieties: a guide