Garlic Bulbs Vs Cloves – What’s The Difference?

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Garlic is at the center of many savory recipes. However, when it comes to home-cooking, many people can get confused between garlic bulbs and cloves. 

Some varieties of garlic are available in different shapes and sizes which can further blur the line between what is considered as a garlic bulb or a clove. 

Today, we will settle this difference once and for all! 

What is the difference between garlic bulbs vs cloves? Garlic bulbs consist of several individual garlic cloves. It can be thought of as one whole herb that is made up of several separate pieces, called cloves. Each clove can be taken apart from the bulb, leaving just the stem behind. 

But there is more to bulbs and cloves than what meets the eye! Read on to learn more about this bulbous herb, how to use it, and the easiest way to extract the cloves from the bulb. 

Garlic Bulbs

Garlic is a bulbous herb—which means that it grows with individual pieces packed together. You can think of the bulb as a home for all the pieces of garlic, called garlic cloves. 

These bulbs grow in dirt and can grow long roots and plants. They consist of a bulbous body that is surrounded by cloves and each clove can be taken apart, while the stem can be discarded

Garlic bulbs have no other purpose than to host the cloves but you can also plant them in the ground and grow your very own bulbs. 

There is no clear origin story when it comes to garlic but many historians believe that we started cultivating it around 4000 years ago. 

It has been used for centuries and can be found in nearly every cookbook so it is safe to say that garlic has been around ever since we started to harvest ingredients to cook food. 

The bulb itself has an inedible stem but can come in handy for many broth recipes where entire bulbs can be submerged whole in water and simmered for hours to extract their flavor.

A single garlic bulb can contain anywhere from 10-12 cloves of garlic. There are many varieties of bulbs too. Some are larger, some smaller, and others have varying sizes of cloves too. 

For example, China, which also happens to be the largest producer of garlic, exports large-sized bulbs that have around 12 cloves of garlic attached to them.

Each clove is also larger or “fatter” and will usually provide a mild but thoroughly pronounced garlic flavor. 

The smaller garlic bulbs contain thinner cloves that are stronger in flavor and can also be harder to process because of their skin.

The bulb is surrounded by a fibrous layer that protects the cloves and the bulb from the external environment. 

The best way to use the bulb whole is to first render this fibrous layer by soaking it in water for 10-15 minutes. This will hydrate and tenderize the skin which will also make it easier to extract the flavors and peel the cloves. 

Garlic Cloves

As stated above, garlic cloves are the individual parts that are attached to the bulbs. When you hear the word “garlic” this is what people mostly refer to! 

The cloves can be easily detached from the bulb by breaking the bulb in half.

It is important to not cut the bulb with a knife, rather, you can just lightly press down on it with the palm of your hand while the bulb is upright on the kitchen counter

The pressure will release all the cloves and you can then individually peel them for immediate use! Another great way to extract the cloves is to split the garlic bulb by holding the bulb with both hands and giving it a slight twisting motion. 

Once the cloves are out, you will then need to peel the layer using your hands or a knife. We recommend using a knife to peel the cloves

Using your hands is also a great and convenient way to do it but you might end up with a strong garlicky scent on your fingers and it might even sting a little if you manage to get the garlic pulp inside your fingernails. 

Our recommended method is to use the side of any kitchen knife to first lightly smash the clove and then pick on the peeled skin like a thread. This method is what most chefs use and it makes peeling garlic less of a hassle. 

Peeling garlic this way is even more of a time-saver when it comes to smaller and thinner cloves. Avoid cutting the garlic from the top—just peel it as it is or you would be just wasting perfectly usable garlic! 

You can also opt for pre-peeled garlic cloves from the market. Be careful, though, as these cloves may be treated with different chemicals to help with the peeling process since they are rarely peeled by hand.

Manufacturers use industrial-grade machines to process and peel the outer layer of the garlic as quickly as possible. Ask the store rep or see the back of the packaging for more information on how the garlic was processed at the plant. 

How To Use Whole Garlic Bulbs

Whole garlic bulbs can be used to save time, as is a common practice at many restaurants that would rather simmer entire garlic bulbs than peel the garlic cloves individually. 

The bulbs add a compounded garlic flavor and it becomes easier to filter and remove the garlic when it is not needed

For example, a great way to do this is to wrap garlic along with a few spices and herbs in a cheesecloth and let it hang inside a pot of water.

The water will steep the cheesecloth and extract the flavors from all the ingredients, just like a teabag!

This method is excellent for a range of recipes that don’t require visible spices and herbs. It is also a great technique for making tasty soups and broths. 

Garlic bulbs can be soaked in water for about 30 minutes to tenderize the outer layer and also make them easier to cook with.

If you want to get a bit fancy and technical, then you can also try fermenting the bulbs. This will result in a blackened bulb with dark cloves that have a surprisingly delicious and sweet flavor!

This technique has been used for centuries and is one of the best ways to get more flavor out of this herb. 

How To Use Garlic Cloves

Garlic cloves are widely used across the globe. They are the foundation for almost every savory dish out there!

The cloves can be blended, chopped, or used whole. The best way to get the most out of the flavor of garlic is to fry it

Fried garlic has a unique umami-laden flavor and crisp texture that is usually used as a garnish. It can also be mixed with other ingredients to make all sorts of sauces and even salad dressings. 

Garlic can also be blended and combined with another spice plant, ginger! Ginger and garlic create a duo like no other.

These two ingredients are called in many recipes and their use is considered to be a packaged deal in many cuisines, especially in Chinese recipes!

The cloves can also be added whole and left to simmer to tenderize their outer layer. Large cloves, like the ones that originate from China, can be fried whole and used as a presentation piece or in marinades too.

Similarly, pickled garlic cloves are also a great option and can be used in several recipes as well. 

Growing Bulbs With Cloves

Garlic bulbs can also be regrown with minimal soil or even just water! That’s right, you can regrow multiple bulbs just by using cloves and water in an ordinary container. 

To do this, simply take a large container and allow the cloves to float on top of the water for 1-2 days. You will start to notice a green growth at the top of the cloves. This is called the sprout which will develop into the garlic plant.

Once the bulb has been germinated, simply take it out of the water and plant it in wet soil. Cover all of the cloves except for the sprout.

Keep the soil moist by adding just a bit of water every few days. Don’t flood the pot or the garlic may die out!

Give the plants up to 9 months to grow and dry out and voila! You will have regrown multiple garlic bulbs using ordinary garlic cloves.

How To Store Garlic Bulbs And Cloves 

Garlic is easy to store so long as you keep it away from moisture. 

As we have already explained above, when exposed to water, garlic will sprout! Therefore, the best way to store the bulbs whole is to keep them in an airy place, away from sunlight.

This can either be a basket in your balcony or any place that is continually exposed to light wind. 

The air will help keep the garlic dry and will also help it remain fresh.

Storing the garlic this way will keep them fresh for up to 5 months but we recommend that you use the bulbs as soon as possible to capitalize on their flavor

Blended garlic paste, which is processed by adding a few bulbs and a bit of water to help with the mixing process, can be stored in an air-tight jar in the fridge for about 1-2 weeks.

Make sure that the temperature of the fridge is always at 40°F for the best results. 

You can also freeze garlic paste in a freezer-safe container for several months but we wouldn’t recommend doing this as the paste will likely lose its flavor over time—and garlic is the sort of herb that is best used fresh if given the chance!

As mentioned, ginger and garlic paste can also be combined and stored in the same way.

Many manufacturers also produce bottles of ginger and garlic paste that do not require refrigeration due to the addition of preservatives and additives. 

This allows for easy storage but you should try to avoid these processed herbs as they may pose a health risk just for the sake of convenience.

Besides, you will probably end up refrigerating the bottle after opening it which defeats the purpose of having all those extra preservatives. 

It is just better to make a customized ginger garlic paste at home! 

Garlic can be thought of as different parts of a whole herb. The bulb contains cloves and the cloves can be detached from the bulb and processed individually. Each has its use in the culinary and harvesting world

Bulbs are better suited to be cooked whole for maximum flavor extraction while also providing the added convenience of not creating a mess.

On the other hand, the cloves can also be used individually to garnish, flavor, and cook different recipes! 

Related Questions 

Now that you know the difference between garlic bulbs and garlic cloves, here are a few great related questions that will further help in differentiating between the two!

What are garlic bulbils? 

Garlic bulbils are different from garlic bulbs. While both are edible, bulbils are formed on a garlic scape like a flower, rather than growing underground.

They have a mild and slightly sweet flavor but are rarely used in cooking, unlike their counterpart below the plant. 

Do garlic bulbs and cloves need to be peeled before blending or frying them?

Yes. Peeling is the go-to way when it comes to using this herb because the skin will never fully render and is thick enough to survive even food processors.

If you want a smooth paste then we recommend peeling the garlic first. 

The same applies for cooking the garlic cloves, always remove the skin before adding the garlic to any recipe or you might end up with unwanted and inedible plant skin in your food. 

How can you tell if garlic cloves and bulbs have gone bad?

Garlic is a dry herb so if you notice any slime or fungal growth on the bulb or the cloves then it may be time to discard it. 

The texture of a healthy garlic bulb is firm or hard. You can check if the cloves and bulb are healthy by pressing the bulb at random spots using your fingers.

If you feel any depression or moistness while pressing in then it may indicate that the bulb has gone bad

Remember, in optimum conditions, garlic bulbs will remain good for 3-4 months or longer if they are kept in a cool and dry place, away from sunlight and moisture. 

What are the health benefits of garlic?

Garlic has a myriad of health benefits. It is used in folk medicine and there is also extensive research being done to determine its benefits in modern medical science.

It is said to help numerous bodily functions and is rich in minerals and vitamins too. 

Garlic is loaded with magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, calcium, and more! It is low in calories but is the perfect ingredient to add to a range of healthy dishes! 

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