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The health-giving properties of garlic have been documented for centuries by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Japanese and modern science. This wonder veggie has been lauded for it's immunity-boosting, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, anti-fatigue properties, and, of course, for its pungent odour and irreplaceable flavour.
Little wonder then that garlic has been a staple of cooking throughout Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia for thousands of years. Unfortunately, for most of our own history, Australia has relied on garlic imported from Argentina, Mexico, Spain and China. However, thanks to the ongoing work of Nick Diamantopoulos, that's rapidly changing.
100 % Australian-grown
What matters to Diamantopoulos the most is replacing all imported garlic and garlic products with Australian grown varieties. From the small hobby farm where he got started, he's grown his love of garlic become Australia's biggest producer and a leading expert.
"I really loved agriculture, gardening and agribusiness and I was working as an industrial chemist for 10 years," he explains on Australia's Food Bowl. "I actually started experimenting with garlic varieties that I found locally. And there was a lot of failures because it was all riddled with diseases; it actually had viruses in it."
At the time, garlic wasn't considered particularly suitable to grow in Australia, and definitely not in Iraak, near Mildura in Victoria's north-east where Nick is based. The season started around Christmas, and finished before the end of summer. Not ideal for growing a commercial crop that people wanted to use year-round.
"Because of my scientific background, I was able to test the garlic and identify that Australia didn't have any good planting material," explains Diamantopoulos. "So I thought it was a great opportunity, to actually try and grow a little bit of garlic because it was a market that was really for the taking."
From naught to 292
And take it Diamantopoulos most certainly did. He travelled the world investigating varieties that would be suitable across Australia's diverse climates, and came up with the goods. Today, Diamantopoulos is the chief executive of Australian Garlic Producers, which holds approximately 292 varieties of garlic, around 12 of them grown commercially.
"They range from tropical, sub-tropical, temperate through to cool climate varieties," Diamantopoulos tells SBS Food. "Each variety is harvested at different times, so we have fresh Australian garlic year round, as a result of Australia’s diverse climatic conditions."
Diamantopoulos grows garlic through contractors in farms across Australia; from down south near Mount Gambier in South Australia to Ali Curung, north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. They harvest from as early as September, right through until late March. "When garlic is fresh, regardless of variety it always tastes amazing," he says.
Intensity of flavour
Unless you're planning on growing your own, it's the flavour of garlic that matters the most and something Nino Zoccali, Executive Chef and Proprietor of Sydney's The Restaurant Pendolino takes very seriously. "Varieties can vary dramatically in intensity of flavour, "he tells SBS Food. 'We only use Australian grown garlic... and favour purple garlic when it is in season for the delicate balance of sweet and peppery spice it offers."
Italian cuisine is famous for its liberal use of garlic, but Zoccali says that this isn't necessarily the case across Italy. "Some Italians use garlic sparingly and will use it more as a mild flavouring rather than a key ingredient whereas others use it a principal flavour input (think pesto!)," he explains.
Fresh is best
Regardless of the cuisine you're cooking, if you're cooking it in Australia, it pays to seek out Australian-grown garlic.
"It is fresh, tasty and healthy [and] grown to stringent food safety standards, unlike imported garlic that can be several months old before it arrives into Australia," Diamantopoulos says.
Garlic varieties are grouped according to their cultivar and the characteristics they share. If you know a garlic variety belongs to a particular group, you'll have a fair idea of the flavour and what area of Australia it was most likely grown in.
Here are our picks of the best Australian-grown varieties to seek out.
Diamantopoulos refers to this hard-necked (Turban group) variety as "one of the tastiest garlic varieties on the planet." It's one of his favourite bulbs in both flavour and ease of growing, and one of the only varieties that stands up to the old rule of thumb: "You plant on the shortest day of the year, and you harvest at the longest," agrees Diamantopoulos.
Australian Red has big, brownish cloves with a strong, hot flavour that becomes milder when cooked.
This (Artichoke group) Australian cultivar was developed by grower Roger Schmitke in South Australia over a 25 year period and released commercially in 1994. It has a rich flavour with little to no aftertaste and a mild odour. The white skin sometimes has purple blotches, but the cloves themselves are white to tan.
The skin on the cloves of Australian White can sometimes be difficult to peel, but bashing the cloves with the back of a knife will help remove the skins. It's worth the trouble to take advantage of this delicious all-rounder.
This (Artichoke group) garlic is one of the Australian varieties most likely to be stocked in the big supermarkets, so it's one many Aussies will be familiar with. The cloves and skin are most often creamy white, but can also have purple tips.
Italian White has a mild flavour with little aftertaste and a gentle fragrance. It's a good garlic to use when a recipe calls for raw garlic.
Italian Pink is a sweet tasting and smelling (Subtropical group) variety that is mild in flavour. It was developed by the Gleeson family in Swan Hill, northern Victoria, and is now one of the main varieties grown commercially in WA and Queensland.
This variety has a thin, pinkish skin and a hard neck that's easily removed, so it makes for easy preparation when cooking. The flavour improves over a few weeks after curing to a hot, sweet and spicy pungency.
Glenlarge was developed at Queensland's Gatton Research Station as a (Subtropical group) variety that would grow in the warm northern regions of Australia. It has a moderately hot flavour when raw, that mellows considerably on cooking to a sweet, mild taste. Glenlarge has white skins with soft purple blotching and tall, slender pinkish to tan cloves.
There's a bit of contention as to whether Mauel Benitee belongs in the Silverskin group or the Creole group. Creoles and Silverskins were once all classed as one group and are closely related. In any case, Manuel Benitee is unsurprisingly quite a fiery garlic with a very hot, complex, long-lasting flavour. It has slender dark red-purple cloves that are disguised in a very white, thin skin. Use this one in dishes that are meant to be spicy, or everywhere if you are especially fond of garlic.
This is a popular (Turban group) variety that you can often find in supermarkets and definitely in specialty grocers. It's got a warm, medium flavour that works well in all types of cuisines.
"I particularly like the [Monaro Purple] garlic grown in Crookwell in the Southern Tablelands of NSW," says Nino. "It is pungent and has amazing flavour."
Despite the name, (Turban group) Tasmanian Purple is grown in nearly all Australian regions where garlic can be grown. It does grow particularly well in Tasmania though! It's a mild flavoured garlic, with just a touch of heat. Tasmanian Purple's taste can be quite rich and nutty when sautéed or roasted and its colour can be very purple indeed.
A spicy (Creole group) variety that adds a hot punch to any dish. It goes especially well in Mexican and Creole dishes. The cloves are distinctively purple and show through the tissue-like white skin. It's a large, hard-necked bulb, with up to 15 wedge-shaped cloves. If you want to bring out its caramel, nutty tendencies, roast it on a low heat for at least an hour.
Noodles stirred together with oil and a savoury sauce are tremendously common throughout Asia, but dishes like mazemen, mee pok, Hakka mee and bak chor mee haven’t reached the popularity abroad that stir-fried noodles or soup noodles have achieved. Mores the pity because they are incredibly easy to make.
There’s so much boiled food in Indigenous cuisine — it’s one of the main food preparation techniques. This dish is a fancy version of so much of the simple, boiled food that our communities eat, yet it’s an example of how truly good simple can be.
This simple stir-fried dish uses fresh Australian garlic in a buttery sauce to coat delicious and tender prawns. If you want to make things even easier, you can skip the deep-frying step and just cook the prawns directly in the garlic butter sauce.
Bangers and mash is such a classic comfort dish. This recipe is no exception, and it has an extra flavour punch with the addition of roasted garlic to the mashed potatoes. A simple mid-week meal that doesn’t compromise on flavour.
Luke cooks up freshly caught succulent shrimp, on the beach while locals look on.