Green garlic, like the spring onions chronicled here two weeks ago, are an in-progress plant. Green garlic is simply garlic on its way to becoming a bulb: It's plucked from the field to make room for its neighbors' growth. But green garlic, or young garlic, has lately earned independent crop status, thanks to its fresh, vegetal flavor. "It is to mature garlic what a string quartet is to an orchestra; what a sonnet is to a novel," T. Susan Chang wrote in a green garlic salute for NPR. Will green garlic inspire you to unfurl such poetic reflections? Perhaps. But the next seven tidbits are sure things in the green garlic realm:
1. The number of online recipes calling for green garlic is puny compared with the number of online recipes calling for just plain garlic. But home cooks shouldn't despair: Green garlic goes wherever garlic goes. Just remember its flavor is significantly milder, so adjust seasoning and proportions accordingly.
2. Unlike mature garlic, which is cloaked in papery skin, green garlic is edible from bottom to top. While it can be pickled, pureed, braised or sauteed, raw green garlic is an excellent addition to soups, salads and sauces.
3. Garlic has been grown in the United States since the 1700s, but it wasn't widely used until the 1920s, when immigrants from regions with garlic-heavy cuisines and soldiers returning from Europe helped bolster demand. Garlic interest has recently surged again, a phenomenon attributed to the broadening of the American diet and garlic's reported health benefits. Per capita consumption has shot up to 2.6 pounds from .05 pounds in 1919, when it was first measured. (Sounds impressive until you hear the comparable figure from Korea: 22 pounds per person, per year.)
4. The popularity of green garlic probably picked up first in California, the nation's top garlic-producing state. In 1999, Alice Waters used David Goines' Art Nouveau-style illustration of green garlic to illustrate the front cover of her "Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook."
5. According to the USDA, men are garlic's biggest fans. Men consume 62 percent of garlic eaten nationwide.
6. In most supermarkets, green garlic is still considered a specialty item. The vast majority of garlic is harvested later in the year and dried.
7. Green garlic isn't as hardy as dried bulbs of mature garlic, which can be successfully stored for 3 to 5 months if the surroundings are cool and dry. Green garlic should be kept in the refrigerator, either stood up in a water glass or wrapped in a damp paper towel (in both cases, a protective plastic bag helps prolong the garlic's usefulness.) But even in ideal circumstances, the stalks are likely to wilt within a few days.