Is Garlic a Vegetable? Or Is Garlic a herb, or spice?

Garlic is considered a vital ingredient in many cuisines around the world. It has even become a must-have item in American kitchens!

Despite its fame and flavor, people still wonder, “Is Garlic a vegetable? Or Perhaps an herb, or spice?

Strictly speaking, Garlic is a root vegetable (Allium sativum) belonging to the onion family. It is also not wrong to call Garlic a spice as it adds flavor to the food but Galic is Not a herb.

The garlic bulb at the root consists of 10 to 20 cloves packed together in a covering like paper which is typically removed before consumption. The edible part within this papery skin is pale yellowish in color.

Why Garlic is a Vegetable?

A vegetable is best described as an herbaceous plant that has any portion being edible. The edible part could be leaves, stalks, flowers, or roots. 

The garlic plant has a stalk, flowers, and roots (bulbs). Two parts of the garlic plant can be eaten, the stems and the roots so it qualifies as a vegetable. The botanical name of Garlic is Allium sativum.

Unlike most other vegetables, Garlic is not cooked alone and consumed.

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Why is Garlic a Spice?

As per Merriam Webster, Spice is any of various aromatic vegetable products (such as pepper or nutmeg) used to season or flavor foods.

Garlic is a vegetable that can be dried, powdered, and stored for long amounts of time and can be used to flavor the cuisines. This makes Garlic qualify as a Spice.

Why is Garlic Not a Herb?

As per Merriam Webster, Herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.

Though technically Herbs are the leaves of the plant, while Spices come from the roots, bark, and seeds.

While Garlic is known to have several medicinal benefits for people who eat it regularly in small amounts, it is a root vegetable and hence cannot be considered a Herb.  

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The garlic we use in cooking is not actually the plant itself but the root. This root portion is called the bulb. The stalks also called scapes are also edible but are not as flavorful as the garlic bulb.

Garlic is a flowering plant and produces a flower at the terminal point of the stalk.

An interesting fact about Garlic is that what you see above ground isn’t really a true stem, it’s just the leaves of the plant. Its true stem is underground, forming its buds over the winter that expand into leaves that turn into cloves of garlic.

The Garlic bulb is enclosed in a white almost translucent paper which is inedible. The bulb or “head” conceals around 10 to 20 cloves of garlic. Again, each garlic clove is surrounded by the same paper material. 

Fresh garlic itself is a pale yellowish color when fresh and it is very pungent when eaten raw. For cooking, you usually mince the garlic cloves to make a paste or chop it up. Also, garlic powder can be used as a convenient spice.  

Garlic has several nutrients, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Thiamine, Potassium, Folate, Manganese, Calcium, Phosphorous, and Copper. Plus, garlic is a low-calorie option that also acts as a fast way to incorporate flavor. 

The binomial name of Garlic

According to botanical classification, garlic is scientifically known as Allium sativum. This places garlic under the vegetable category in the onion family. Other members include; chives, leeks, and shallots. 

When it comes to the culinary world, garlic has rarely been used the way any other traditional vegetable is used. It is used more like a spice or herb. It is a rich aromatic ingredient that adds more flavor to any dish. 

Is Garlic a vegetable?

Types of Garlic – Subspecies 

The Allium sativum family features two subspecies, we know them simply as hard-neck and soft-neck garlic.

Hard-neck garlic (A. sativum var ophioscorodon)

Hard-neck garlic gets its name due to the hard central stem in the middle of the cloves. The hard-neck garlic is renowned for being easier to peel. They are best grown in colder climates and are more accustomed to winter weather. 

The hard-neck variant is the one that develops edible stalks or scapes. This group is referred to as Ophioscorodon and it includes:

  • Porcelain garlic
  • Rocambole garlic
  • Purple stripe garlic

This variant of garlic does not last as long as its soft-neck counterparts. They will start to deteriorate and shrivel within 4 to 6 months regardless of storage conditions.

Though they are difficult to grow, most garlic growers state that hard-neck garlic packs more flavor than the soft-neck variant. So while they are not found often in grocery stores, they are the love of food connoisseurs.  

Soft-neck garlic (A. sativum var sativum)

The soft-neck garlic is best grown in warmer climates as it is not acclimatized to extreme cold. This group consists of below common garlic types:

  • Artichoke garlic
  • Silver skin garlic
  • Creole garlic 

Soft-neck garlic heads will last for an impressive 9 to 12 months in favorable storage conditions. This makes it more popular and is mostly used to make powdered garlic.

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Benefits of Garlic 

Sure, garlic makes food taste better but does it serve any other purpose?

Garlic has been used since ancient times and has been extensively studied by experts. It contains sulfur compounds and the essential compound allicin like most members of the onion family.

Adding fresh garlic is not a bad idea and is found to be beneficial. It has the following health benefits: 

  • Lowers risk of blood clots
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Antimicrobial properties due to allicin
  • Boasts immune system functioning
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Treats respiratory-related infections (asthma, coughs, and bronchitis)

There are even some speculated reports that garlic can increase life expectancy and make you live longer! 

One clove (3 grams) of raw garlic contains (5Trusted Sources):

  • Manganese: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 2% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 1% of the DV
  • Selenium: 1% of the DV
  • Fiber: 0.06 grams
  • Calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin B1

This comes with 4.5 calories, 0.2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of carbs.

Growing garlic from cloves

Garlic cloves can be used for more purposes than just consumption. Each clove of the garlic head can act as a possible start to a new garlic plant.

The garlic head is the main method of propagating and growing garlic for most farmers. Prior to growing garlic from cloves, the dried garlic head should be slightly crushed to reveal the cloves.

Be sure to try to keep as much of the papery skin on them for protection and moisture during the winter season. When planting garlic from cloves, do not be alarmed if nothing grows for a while!

When to harvest garlic? –

Garlic FAQs

Garlic is relatively easy to grow if the conducive requirements are met. Here are some typical questions first-time garlic growers would ask about this root vegetable.

Can you grow garlic indoors?

Although it is not the most conventional method, yes you can grow garlic indoors. You would require a pot and suitable potting mix that would be able to drain well and offer enough nutrients to the garlic plant. Here the cloves will act as seeds that will grow into complete plants. 

The main purpose of growing garlic indoors is to harvest the scrapes (green stem portion) at the right time. Growing garlic is not very difficult but takes a long time for it to fully develop from a single garlic clove. Typically this is 4 to 6 months! 

It should also be noted that the garlic pot plant must be placed in an area of full sunlight. Use nutrient-rich soil that drains well. Be sure to water the pot often but not too often to allow sprouting of the garlic clove. 

Is garlic a root vegetable?

Garlic is a root vegetable. A root vegetable can be defined as a modified underground shoot. Since garlic is an underground bulb, it is considered a root vegetable. Garlic stems can also be eaten when chopped up similar to the stems of spring onions. 

Garlic is known mostly for the heads that have several individual cloves of garlic. Using garlic fresh is its most common use as a tastemaker. Garlic heads can also be dried and powdered for using them later. 

Garlic is even listed as one of the healthiest root vegetables that can be added to your diet. This might be why it is a staple ingredient in many cuisines. 

When to grow garlic?

Garlic is best planted in mid-autumn in sunny locations. This is different to most vegetables which are summer plants. This is to allow the cloves to develop established roots. By the time winter arrives roots will be strong but the plant will not sprout until summer. 

In the USA, autumn is usually from September to November. December to February are the months that denote the winter season. During winter, the garlic plant is dormant and gathering nutrients for the approaching summer. 

The reason stems will not develop until summer is because during winter the ground will freeze and plants may die. A unique mechanism is used by the garlic which tells it when it is spring and time to sprout. 

The summer months are from June to August and are the time for the garlic cloves to grow above the soil, provided the roots have formed properly. 

When to harvest garlic?

The color of the garlic leaves is a good determination of when to harvest your garlic. When the leaves are yellowish and have a burnt brown appearance, the time is right to pull out the garlic.

Be sure to be delicate enough while you pull hard so that the entire plant and bulb come out. Leaving the garlic in the ground too long can affect the cloves as they will begin to separate. Separated cloves do not keep well and may begin to shrivel up. 

Now that you have some idea about the background of garlic, go ahead and plant some!