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Kazakh garlic is a colorful bulb, averaging 6 to 7 centimeters in diameter, and has a round, tapered, and slightly flattened shape with large cloves surrounding a firm and elongated central neck or stalk. Each bulb contains 6 to 10 cloves, and the bulb is tightly wrapped in many thin, papery, purple and white striped layers. Underneath the parchment-like layers, each individual crescent-shaped clove is encased in a protective layer that is shiny and light brown, also displaying purple variegated striping. Kazakh garlic has a sharp and pungent, earthy flavor when raw that mellows and develops a rich, nutty, and musky flavor when cooked.
Kazakh garlic is available year-round in Central Asia.
Kazakh garlic, botanically classified as Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon, is a general descriptor used to encompass many different varieties of hardneck garlic that belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. The varieties, more specifically purple stripe cultivars, are believed to be direct descendants of wild garlic and are native to southern Kazakhstan, which is deemed by experts to be part of the center of origin of all garlic. There are many different varieties of purple stripe garlic that may be classified generally as Kazakh garlic, including Duganski, Zaili, and Maxitop, and these cultivars are favored for their long storage capabilities and sharp, pungent flavors, utilized as both a culinary and medicinal ingredient.
Kazakh garlic is an excellent source of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help boost the immune system and contains vitamin B6 and manganese. It also provides anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties and some potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
Kazakh garlic is best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as roasting, sautéing, grilling, and stir-frying. When raw, the cloves can be chopped, pureed, or crushed into dips, sauces, and dressings. It is important to note that the raw cloves tend to have a stronger, more pungent flavor, and when crushing, chopping, pressing, or pureeing in applications, the cloves release even more of their oils providing a sharper, assertive flavor in comparison to slicing or leaving it whole. Kazakh garlic is also popularly utilized in cooked applications as the pungent oils will reduce into a savory and rich flavor. The garlic can be added into soups and rice dishes, cooked with meats, boiled into dumplings, or roasted with vegetables. It can also be sautéed into sauces, boiled and marinated, roasted by itself for a sweeter flavor, incorporated into noodle-based dishes, or pickled for extended use. Kazakh garlic pairs well with spices such as coriander, dill, parsley, and sesame seeds, meats such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and horse, yogurt, sour cream, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and eggplant. Kazakh garlic will keep up to nine months, depending on the specific variety, when stored in a cool and dry place.
In Kazakhstan, traditional meals typically revolve around robustly flavored meats and high energy accompaniments. Kazakh garlic can add a rich, earthy flavor to dishes and is sometimes used in besbarmak, which is considered the national dish of Kazakhstan. The meat-focused dish consists of boiled meat, typically lamb, beef, fish, or horse meat, which is regarded as a delicacy and is served over flat, homemade pasta squares. The dish is also served with a side of an aromatic meat broth filled with spices, herbs, and kurt, which is dried fermented milk that can be stirred into the broth. Besbarmak translates to mean five fingers, which is derived from the original nomadic style of eating the dish with hands rather than silverware. The dish is also served in large, family-style portions, and is shared among family and friends at gatherings.
Kazakh garlic is closely related to wild garlic varieties native to Central Asia in a region known as the “garlic crescent,” which stretches in an arc-like shape across countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and into northern Turkmenistan and Iran. These wild garlic varieties are believed to have been present since ancient times, and semi-nomadic tribes would carry the garlic with them for medicinal and culinary purposes. As the cultivation of these varieties began, the cultivars we are familiar with today are a product of multiple generations of selective breeding. Today many of the Kazakh garlic varieties seen in local markets are still being grown through small farms, and some newer varieties have been developed at the Kazakh Research Institute of Potato and Vegetable Farming in the Almaty region. Outside of Kazakhstan, Kazakh varieties such as the Duganski have also been introduced as a specialty home garden cultivar in North America, Europe, and Australia.