Puny garlic

I’m getting tired of seeing TV chefs cooking with garlic cloves that are almost always 2 to 5 times larger than the ones I typically get at local markets here in South OC, CA.
Sometimes garlic is larger than at other times, but it’s the size of the individual cloves that is driving me nuts. Usually a garlic head will have a few "larger’ cloves and then most of the rest of it is made up of very small cloves. This makes peeling take several times longer than it would if I had cloves the size of what I see on TV.

Are all the TV chefs using ‘elephant’ garlic… whatever that really is? I see it only occasionally here, so it’s not a real solution. is this a regional thing? What should I be looking for? And, if you’re familiar with South OC, where should I look?

Most of the time, smaller heads/cloves have better flavor. Certainly elephant garlic is often low in strength As for peeling and not worth buying, if you smash unpeeled garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife, then it is easier to pick off the peel and the center green shoot.

1 Like

I think it just depends on the variety. I have grown a lot of garlic and some heads produce large cloves, some produce small.

1 Like

Sorry this somehow got garbled in my post. What I was trying to say is that elephant garlic is not worth buying most of the time for lack of flavor.

The great thing about being a TV chef is that it is all visual and nobody actually tastes what you produce – or at least not anybody who is going to spit it out on camera. I once read an article by someone who had a ringside seat at a taping of a couple of Emeril Lagasse shows, close enough to be handed portions of the dish he’s just cooked on camera. They reported – unsurprisingly – that food was pretty dreadful – all the spices unbalanced, not completely cooked through, tough to chew. I can see why a TV chef would want to be displaying a clove of garlic big enough to show up clearly on camera (and then reach for the little bowl of garlic his/her off-camera slaves had minced in advance). Take out your anger on the tiny cloves. Smash them.

Just to try keeping things focused on the garlic itself I’ll inject that I am well aware of the ‘smash and peel’ technique.

I think a garlic clove should be about the size of the last joint on your middle finger or maybe your thumb. I hate prepping lots of really tiny cloves! Or when the garlic starts sprouting bitter green leaves soon after you buy it. The little Asian places always seem to have the firmest, largest bulbs.

Agree on the Asian market thing. We have a 99 Ranch Market in the area, and I do recall the garlic cloves being consistently bigger there. I get there maybe once in two-three months though, as it’s 30 minutes in a direction I really rarely travel.

Elephant garlic isn’t the same plant as what is commonly called garlic.

1 Like

No wonder it doesn’t taste like garlic! I only bought it years ago when I lived in the states and it first arrived. But I wouldn’t put it past TV chefs to use it on camera as “garlic”.


But I HAVE had garlic that has mostly all ‘large’ cloves and, as I said, I’ve noticed that the ones I buy at the Asian market are more consistently that way. I just wonder why garlic varies so much and the big market chains don’t care.

Maybe, next time I’m up near Gilroy, CA, I’ll stop in somewhere and ask about how garlic is graded.

I emailed Christopher Garlic, in Gilroy, CA (the garlic capitol of the world) to ask about clove size, grading of garlic, and where to look for the larger ones. Here’s the response:

“There are hundreds of different varieties of garlic and the clove structure will be different within those varieties. California Garlic typically has a mix of large and small cloves (especially this year…the mild winter effected the “cloving” of the garlic). Chinese garlic tends to have cloves that are very uniform in size and the bulbs tend to me more round.”

So… what I find available seems to be ‘normal’ for California garlic. I have no idea whether the Asian market (where I seem to find bigger cloved bulbs) gets their garlic from California growers of from China. Sometimes you just gotta settle, I guess.

I can’t find where I recently read this but garlic from China has the stem end ‘shaved’ and CA garlic has roots still attached. Here are some pix:

I confess to finding bulb garlic too strong (other than when deeply roasted whole), so for my everyday cooking, I use garlic powder or TJ’s jarred crushed garlic. For something like 40-garlic clove chicken, I buy the peeled cloves sold in plastic containers in the supermarket produce section. Their size is largely uniform, about an inch long, with a half-inch diameter. Seems a reasonable size to me, but perhaps that’s small by Midlife’s standards.

In case you want to continue your garlic research, you can email some of the vendors who attend the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival.


I went one year. So, so, so much garlic. Plus, a garlic king & queen!

I’ve found two different uses for the little bulbs. No peeling required.

1- add to boiling water for mashed potatoes. It’ll impart a faint garlic flavor. Just be sure to fish them out afterwords. maybe use a satchel?

2- for baked potatoes place them on a sheet pan with garlic cloves and salt.

99 Ranch always has the country of origin on the sign.