There are 10 basic families of garlic and more than 600 sub-species that fall into those 10 families. Garlic sprouts come in two basic varieties: the seeds of garlic chives and the tough, raw shoots that protrude up from planted Chinese garlic bulbs. Both varieties of the sprouts can be harvested and added to foods such as salads, stir fry, juices, pizzas and sandwiches.
So much garlic is grown all over the world that hundreds of sub-species have been cultivated from two basic species, Allium sativum and Allium sativum ophioscorodon. The first type are hard-necked garlics, and the latter are soft-necked varieties. Of the two species, 10 families of garlic have emerged. Five are hard-necked garlics, two are hard-necked garlics that bolt into soft-necked garlics, and three are strictly soft-necked garlic varieties.
Garlic sprouts fall into one of two main types — sprouts obtained from hard-necked Chinese garlic and sprouts grown from garlic chive seeds — and the two types are very different. The sprouts from Chinese garlic are green stems that shoot up from purple garlic bulbs planted in the ground. Not every variety of hard-necked garlic produces edible garlic sprouts; some varieties produce tasteless green stems that should be discarded. An easy way for someone to tell the difference is to snap the end of one of the stems that is suspected to be a garlic sprout. If it smells like garlic, it is a garlic sprout that can be prepared and eaten.
Sprouts from hard-necked purple Chinese garlic are about 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) long and are so thick that they are almost impossible to eat raw. These garlic sprouts can be cleaned, cut into 2-inch (5.1-cm) pieces and sautéed in olive oil over medium heat for about five minutes or until tender. They can then be added to stir fry dishes or garnished with sesame seeds, sugar and salt and served as a side dish or appetizer.
Another type of garlic sprouts are those that grow from garlic chive seeds. These sprouts grow from seed and take about two weeks to mature. After they are mature, these garlic sprouts can be spun in a salad spinner to detach the seeds and then can be added to salads, sandwiches or pizzas or can be quickly cooked in stir fry dishes.
Resembling alfalfa sprouts, garlic sprouts are high in vitamins A, B, C and E as well as calcium and iron. They also are high in chlorophyll, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus and potassium. Their appealing taste makes them suitable as a snack that can be eaten all by itself.