Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is the source of much confusion and the issue of elephant vs normal size garlic is one with a counter-intuitive outcome.
Many people are attracted to elephant garlic and buy it simply because of its size. They assume that it must be more strongly flavoured than ordinary variety. In fact the opposite is true.
What Is Elephant Garlic?
Elephant garlic is probably more closely related to the leek than to the normal stinking rose. The bulbs are very large and a single bulb can somtimes weigh over a pound each. A single clove of elephant garlic can often be as large as a whole bulb of ordinary garlic. That’s a lot of garlic – but is it a lot of flavour?
In terms of strength, I describe elephant garlic as being to garlic what leeks are to onions. The flavour is much less intense and rather sweeter. It has been described – somewhat unkindly – as “garlic for people who don’t like garlic”.
When buying elephant garlic, follow the same guidelines as usual: look for heads that are firm with plenty of dry, papery covering. Elephant garlic is more perishable than the ordinary type so it doesn’t keep as long and needs to be used rather than stored.
When cooking with elephant garlic, remember that it is not a substitute for the ordinary form. Instead it should be used where a subtle hint of garlic is wanted without overpowering the rest of the food. Treat it as a “similar but different” ingredient when creating or experimenting with recipes.
There are many uses for elephant garlic. It’s often served raw in salads or it can be sliced and sauted in butter (be careful when cooking, it browns very quickly and can turn bitter). It’s also frequently used to give a hint of flavour to soups and stews. Have fun inventing your own signature dish!