Garlic has been grown all over the world by numerous cultures and peoples for thousands of years, it has countless health benefits as well as its renowned flavour, but what exactly is it? Is garlic a vegetable or could be a herb or spice?
Is Garlic A Vegetable?
I think we should start by looking at the definition of a vegetable and move from there.
A usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal; also : such an edible part.” The word herbaceous here refers to the kind of stem vegetable plants have: one with little or no woody tissue, the kind that grows only for a single growing season.
So going by this definition garlic is definitely a vegetable, it is grown for an edible part (the bulb) although the leaves are also edible.
It is herbaceous, garlic plants are annual and don’t grow with woody tissue so they definitely fit the herbaceous category.
But we know that language is not always that simple, and just because it fits the definition of a vegetable well does not mean that garlic may not fit equally well into another category. So let’s have a look at the other main categories of edible plants, mainly fruit, herb and spice and see if garlic fits into those categories.
Is Garlic A Fruit?
Again we need to start by looking at what exactly a fruit is. Here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially : one having a sweet pulp.” The tomato plant is a seed plant—it bears seeds—and the tomato that grows from it is an edible reproductive body; the seeds within the tomato are the means by which the tomato plant reproduce
This, for me at least, also fits a garlic plant. It is the garlic bulb that is the edible part(usually) and that could also be classed as the reproductive part of the plant.
You can grow new garlic plants from the cloves in the bulbs, and indeed this is actually the most common way of growing garlic.
But the whole plant is edible not just the root, which does make it more of a vegetable. Garlic is also part of the allium family and so botanically speaking is more of a vegetable.
So while I would say you could argue that garlic is a fruit it is much more obviously a vegetable.
Is Garlic A Herb?
So that brings us to herbs, and you may think that garlic is obviously not a herb, but take a look at the definition below before proudly proclaiming its lack of herbiness!
a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savoury, or aromatic qualities
Garlic has and still is used for its medicinal benefits as well as its savoury and aromatic qualities. It fits all three of these uses and so neatly fits into categorisation as a herb.
I mean, we use it in the kitchen as much more of a herb than a vegetable. A vegetable will provide a large part of the meal whereas a herb is normally added for its flavour or aromatic qualities.
Garlic definitely fits the bill for a herb although as we discussed earlier it is also very much a vegetable, which brings us neatly onto our last culinary category, spices.
But wait, before we move on there is a little twist here, herbs are usually the leaves or seeds of a plant and garlic is the root. So maybe garlic doesn’t fit here, but it depends on your definition of herb.
Is Garlic A Spice?
As you have probably already worked out from how well garlic fits the herb category it also fits very neatly into the spices.
Any of various aromatic vegetable products (such as pepper or nutmeg) used to season or flavour foods
That definitely applies to garlic, its main use is to season or flavour foods. So there we have it, all cleared up now, garlic is definitely a vegetable, maybe a herb, definitely a spice and it could be argued that it is also a fruit. I think my work here is done…