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Garlic flowers are the flowering seeds, or bulbils, of the garlic plant. They emerge at the top of the garlic's above-ground stem. The seeds appear once the garlic has reached maturity or if the plant begins to bolt early. Garlic flowers have a green stem, also known as a scape, and are capped with lime green, pink, or white spherical capsule of fresh miniature flowers and bulbils. Depending on the variety, each capsule can produce hundreds of bulbils the size of a grain of rice or can produce eight to twenty larger bulbils, approximately one centimeter in diameter. The blooms and bulbils are milder than that of traditional garlic bulbs but still have a pungent and a fresh flavor.
Garlic flowers are available in the late spring and early summer months.
Garlic flowers are produced most commonly on hardneck garlic varieties. Though softneck garlics are believed to have evolved from hardneck varieties, they will only produce a flower on the rare occasion when the plants are stressed. Botanically known as Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, hardneck garlic creates a scape, the long green stalk that stems up from the root and bulb, and the scape produces "flowers" which are by definition, bulbils, or miniature bulbs. Garlic flowers are often overlooked because if the scape is not trimmed, then the garlic plant expends energy to create the bulbils, resulting in smaller underground bulbs. Most growers desire larger underground bulbs for commercial sales and will remove the scape before it can flower. One advantage in allowing the garlic flowers to appear is the bulbils can be used for growers to increase their plant stock much faster than before for next season.
Just like garlic bulbs, garlic flowers are rich in allicin which has anti-microbial and antioxidant properties.
Garlic flowers can be utilized in both raw and cooked applications such as sautéing, roasting, boiling, and grilling whole. Add to soups or salads or use as an edible garnish when finishing hot preparations such as omelets, pizza, and paella. It can also be used in savory side dishes such as rice and mashed potatoes. Garlic flowers can be used whole when pickling and preserving vegetables. Its flavor and texture pairs well with butter, cream, mayonnaise, soy sauce, tomatoes, seafood, cucumbers, egg preparations, grilled meats, creamy and fresh cheeses, and fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, and cilantro. Garlic flowers will keep up to a week when stored in the refrigerator and use before the flower starts to wilt.
The name "garlic" is believed to have come from the Anglo-Saxon term for the garlic relative, the ancient leek. Known as gar-leac or gar-leek which translates to mean "spear-plant," garlic's name is a reference to the spear-like shape of the garlic stem capped with its pointy flower head when unopened. In ancient Greece and Babylon, those that consumed garlic, its blooms, and the scape were often referred to as "rank rose" as a result of its pungent aroma.
Garlic is believed to be native to central Asia, and the Garlic flowers have been around as long as garlic plants have been growing. Garlic flowers can be found on hardneck garlic varieties all over the world including Europe, Asia, and North America and are typically used and sold by home gardeners and specialty garlic stores.