Garlic vs. Purple Garlic: What's the Difference?

Let's get to the root of the matter.

Sometimes in a sea of white garlic bulbs, you might spot a few with purple-tinged skins. What's going on with these bulbs? Are they any different from the white bulbs we're used to seeing?

Those colorful jackets aren't just for looks: Purple garlic is actually a different variety altogether. So what does purple garlic taste like? And how do you cook with it? We get right to the root of the matter (sorry!) to find out.

The Difference Between White Garlic and Purple Garlic

Close up of purple and white garlic
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White Garlic

White garlic is what you'll typically see in most grocery stores. It comes from a variety called softneck garlic, meaning the stalk doesn't grow through the center of the bulb. One garlic bulb will have cloves of all different sizes and shapes, with larger cloves around the outside and smaller ones in the middle.

The stalk at the stem end of the garlic stays flexible, or soft — that's why white garlic bulbs are traditionally braided together. White garlic is easy to grow and generally hardier than other varieties: It ships well and has a long life on supermarket shelves. When it's fresh, white garlic has a powerful garlic flavor.

Purple Garlic

Purple garlic has a purple hue to its papery skin, though the inner cloves are the same color as white garlic cloves. It comes from a variety called hardneck garlic: There's a woody stalk that grows right through the center of each bulb.

The cloves grow around this stalk and tend to be all the same size — a bit larger than white garlic cloves. Purple garlic cloves are "juicier" and have a milder flavor than white garlic when fresh. You might see purple garlic in some supermarkets, but it's more likely to be found in specialty markets and at farmers' markets.

Cluster of purple garlic bulbs
Enrique Díaz / 7cero/ Getty Images

Can I Use Purple Garlic in Place of White Garlic in Cooking?

Garlic aficionados (affectionately known as "garlic heads") will tell you that if you see purple garlic at the store, buy it before someone else does.

Purple garlic can be used just like white garlic. Since it has a slightly milder flavor, it won't overwhelm a dish when raw (think minced into a salad dressing or rubbed on toasted bread).

Some also say that purple garlic's flavor lingers longer after cooking than white garlic. We say that's reason enough to do a side-by-side comparison. Garlic bread, anyone?

How to Store Garlic

Purple garlic does have a shorter shelf life than white garlic and can lose its flavor as it begins to dry out. In summer, when the humidity is higher, store bulbs at room temperature in a mesh bag or loosely woven basket so air can circulate around them. In winter when your heat is on and the air is especially dry, try storing in a small clay flower pot in a closed cabinet.

Favorite Garlic Recipes

Try substituting purple garlic in these classic, garlic-lovers' recipes.

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