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Q&A: What is a Clove of Garlic?

Garlic is a flowering plant in the lily family, native to central Asia. The plant has tall, erect stalks and edible green leaves, but the garlic bulb is the part most used in cuisine. However, your recipe probably requires cloves of garlic, so what is a garlic clove?

Garlic bulbs and garlic cloves on a wooden board.

Garlic is a plant that is related to the onion, leek, and chive (all members of the Allium genus). It has a pungent flavor that goes well with many types of cuisine.

The leaves of a garlic plant (or garlic greens) can be eaten, but most usually it is the bulb that is used when cooking. Some recipes require whole bulbs of garlic, but normally a clove of garlic (or multiple garlic cloves) is called for.

So what is the difference between a clove of garlic and a bulb? You certainly don’t want to get them the wrong way round.

What is a garlic bulb?

Garlic bulbs on a wooden board, one split open showing cloves inside.
Garlic bulbs.

A garlic bulb (or head of garlic) is what you normally would buy at the grocery store. It is around the size of a golf ball and covered with a thin pinkish-white papery outer skin.

In botanical terms, a bulb is a modified stem that is the resting stage of certain plants (including garlic!). A garlic bulb is a relatively large round, underground bud with fleshy overlapping segments, arising from a short stem.

The bulb functions as a food reserve that enable a garlic plant to lie dormant when water is unavailable (during winter or drought) and resume its active growth when conditions are favourable for growing again (in springtime or fall).

What is a garlic clove?

Garlic bulbs have a very thin papery outer skin. Once this outer layer is removed, you’ll see that the bulb of garlic is made up of many individual segments, which are also covered with papery skin. These individual segments, or bulblets, known as garlic cloves.

A bulb of garlic will usually contain 10-15 cloves of garlic.

Photo with text overlay showing what is a garlic clove vs a garlic bulb.
Garlic clove vs bulb.

Usually, a recipe will call for one or more cloves of garlic rather than a whole bulb.

Since a garlic bulb can contain as many as 20 individual garlic cloves, you really want to make sure you get the whole garlic bulb vs clove thing right, and don’t go slinging a whole bulb of garlic in your recipe that called for a single clove!

Can you grow garlic from a clove?

Yes, you can grow garlic from a clove. It is as simple as gently separating a garlic clove from the bulb, retaining its papery covering, and planting it in freshly dug soil.