Unveiling the Distinction: Garlic Bulbs Vs Cloves

Garlic bulbs vs. cloves: Understanding the difference

Garlic is a versatile and flavorful ingredient that adds depth and flavor to countless dishes. However, there is often confusion about the difference between garlic bulbs and cloves. In this article, we will provide a clear explanation of the differences between these two components of garlic.

What are garlic bulbs?

Garlic bulbs are the primary structure of the garlic plant. They are made up of several individual cloves that are tightly packed together. The bulb serves as a protective envelope for the cloves, ensuring their preservation and facilitating their growth. Garlic bulbs are typically grown in the soil and develop long roots and plants.
It should be noted that garlic bulbs have no other purpose than to house the cloves. However, they can also be planted in the ground to produce new bulbs. The exact origin of garlic is uncertain, but historians believe it has been cultivated for about 4000 years. Garlic has played an important role in the culinary practices of various cultures throughout history.
The size and number of cloves in a bulb can vary. For example, China, the largest garlic producer, exports bulbs with approximately 12 cloves. Each individual clove within a bulb can vary in size, with some being larger and others smaller. The size of the clove often correlates with its flavor profile, with larger cloves providing a milder but more pronounced garlic flavor.

Understanding Garlic Cloves

Garlic cloves are the individual segments that make up a garlic bulb. When people talk about “garlic,” they are usually referring to the cloves. The cloves can be easily separated from the bulb by breaking it in half or by gently twisting the bulb. Once separated, each clove can be peeled for immediate use.
You can use a knife or your hands to peel a clove of garlic. Many cooks prefer to use a knife to lightly smash the clove, which loosens the skin and makes it easier to remove. However, hand peeling is also a common method, although it can leave a strong garlic smell on your fingers.
Garlic cloves can be used in a variety of ways, including blending, chopping, or eating whole. Frying garlic cloves enhances their flavor and gives them a unique umami flavor and crunchy texture. Fried garlic is often used as a garnish or combined with other ingredients to make sauces and dressings. In addition, garlic cloves can be boiled to tenderize their outer layer, and larger cloves can even be fried whole for presentation purposes or in marinades.

Using garlic bulbs and cloves

Whole garlic bulbs can be used in recipes to save time and enhance the garlic flavor. Many restaurants prefer to cook whole bulbs in dishes rather than peel individual cloves. This method allows for easy removal of the garlic when its flavor is no longer needed. For example, wrapping garlic bulbs with spices and herbs in cheesecloth and soaking them in water infuses the flavor into the dish, much like using a tea bag.
Garlic cloves, on the other hand, are widely used in savory dishes around the world. They can be minced, chopped, or used whole, depending on the desired result. Combining garlic with ginger creates a powerful duo that enhances the flavors of many cuisines, especially Chinese recipes.

Growing garlic bulbs with cloves

Garlic bulbs can be regrown with cloves and minimal soil or even just water. To regrow garlic, place the cloves in a container of water and let them float for a few days. Soon you will notice a green shoot emerging from the cloves. Once the sprout has developed, place the cloves in a moist soil, covering everything except the sprout. Make sure the soil remains moist but not overly saturated. With patience, the cloves will grow into new garlic bulbs.

Storing Garlic Bulbs and Cloves

Proper storage is critical to maintaining the freshness and quality of garlic bulbs and cloves. It is important to keep garlic away from moisture, as exposure to water can cause sprouting. To store whole garlic bulbs, place them in an airy area out of direct sunlight. This could be a basket in a well-ventilated area. Adequate air circulation will help keep the garlic dry and fresh. Whole bulbs can be stored for up to five months, but it is recommended that they be used as soon as possible to maximize their flavor.
Garlic paste, made by mixing a few bulbs with a small amount of water, can be stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for one to two weeks. It is important to maintain a temperature of 40°F for optimal storage. Although garlic paste can be frozen, it may lose flavor over time, so it is best to use it fresh whenever possible.
In conclusion, garlic bulbs and cloves are different parts of the garlic plant. Garlic bulbs are made up of multiple cloves and serve as a protective casing for the cloves, while garlic cloves are the individual segments that make up the bulb. Understanding the difference between these two forms of garlic is essential for proper culinary use. Whether whole bulbs or individual cloves are used, garlic adds a delightful aroma and flavor to a wide variety of dishes. Experimenting with different types and sizes of garlic bulbs and cloves can help you discover unique flavor profiles and enhance your culinary creations.


What is the main difference between garlic bulbs and cloves?

The main difference between garlic bulbs and garlic cloves is that garlic bulbs are the whole structure that contains several individual cloves, while garlic cloves are the individual segments that make up the bulb.

Can garlic bulbs be substituted for garlic cloves in recipes?

Yes, garlic bulbs can be substituted for garlic cloves in recipes. However, using whole bulbs may result in a milder and more subtle garlic flavor, while using individual cloves may result in a stronger and more pronounced garlic flavor.

Are there differences in size and flavor between garlic bulbs and cloves?

Yes, there can be variations in size and flavor between garlic bulbs and cloves. Garlic bulbs can vary in size, with some being larger and others smaller. Similarly, individual cloves within a bulb can vary in size, with larger cloves usually providing a milder flavor compared to smaller cloves.

What part of the garlic plant is typically used in cooking?

In cooking, the garlic cloves are most commonly used. These individual segments are versatile and can be mixed, chopped or used whole to enhance the flavor of various dishes.

Can garlic bulbs be regrown from cloves?

Yes, garlic bulbs can be regrown from cloves. By planting individual cloves in soil or even just water, new garlic bulbs can be grown. With proper care and patience, the cloves will sprout and grow into new bulbs.

How should garlic bulbs and cloves be stored to keep them fresh?

To keep garlic bulbs and cloves fresh, it is important to store them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Whole bulbs should be kept out of direct sunlight, while peeled cloves can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Proper storage helps prevent sprouting and extends the shelf life of garlic bulbs and cloves.