Garlic, botanical name Allium sativum, is a member of the lily family along with chives, shallots and onions. Garlic roots are the taproots of an individual garlic bulb. These taproots descend from the bulbous root during garlic’s growing cycle, establishing the plant and continuing to act as the plant’s food seeker, absorbing nutrients from the soil. Interestingly enough the roots alone are not capable of absorbing the nutrients from the soil needed to sustain the garlic plant. The roots of garlic and other aliums have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi which enhance the absorption abilities of the roots and allow the garlic to take in the nutrients needed to grow. Garlic roots are an uncommon culinary ingredient, primarily because they are usually trimmed from the bulb and discarded after harvest. They are considered an almost obscure secondary crop for garlic growers. Garlic roots are rarely available at conventional markets, rather they can occasionally be found at farmers markets. Since it is not a commonly harvested item many chefs, restaurants and those interested in acquiring roots make requests with garlic growers for a special harvest of the roots.
Garlic roots are not new to the horticultural landscape; all plants require a root system to grow. All garlic cultivars are considered to be derived from ten specific varieties of garlic that evolved in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Garlic roots can be harvested during the plant’s green garlic stage and throughout its maturity. Unlike onions garlic roots are contractile meaning with each passing season the roots pull the garlic deeper into the soil. This does not really impact commercially grown garlic since it is typically dug up and harvested every season. In the wild however the contractile roots ensure the survival of the plant by preventing the plant from lifting out of the soil, providing consistency in terms of soil temperature and moisture content. The optimal temperature for growing garlic roots is 59 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the roots of garlic are naturally white in color, they have been tinted with tones of brown and black from sand and dirt, a colored suggestion of where they come from. These colors do not play into the flavor though. Roots are typically hairless and can extend up to 18 inches in length. On average most garlic bulbs will have between 40 and 60 roots. Garlic roots hold less bite than the bulb and offer more of a subtle garlic flavor. On the palate they deliver notes of savory pepper and a mellow sweet garlic finish without any bite. Cooked garlic roots become even more mellow and develop a hint of nutty sweetness.
Garlic roots are available in the spring and summer months.
Garlic roots have been used in traditional medicine to eliminate worms in both humans and animals. Similarly to the bulbs of the garlic plant, garlic roots contain allicin which has antibiotic and antifungal properties and can be crushed and made into an ointment used topically in treatment of fungal and bacterial infections as well as in treatment of wasp and bee stings.
Garlic roots can be used raw or cooked in various applications and countless recipes. Comparable to the less robust flavor of green garlic, they can be added to fresh salads, combined with cooking oils for applications such as sautéed fish, chicken, potatoes and even fried eggs. They can also be fried or dehydrated to give a crunchy texture to the roots. Garlic roots can be used to impart flavor in soups, while also being added as a visual element to garlic soup itself. They can be added to pasta and legume dishes, tossed in as a finishing touch with noodles, cream and cheese sauces or blanched fava beans. Pair garlic roots with fresh, spring vegetables such as asparagus, morels, green herbs, peas, leeks and fiddlehead ferns. To store keep garlic roots refrigerated and wrapped in a paper towel in a sealed container, they are best used within two weeks.
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