Apr 29 2024

Purple Magic, the Character of a Special Garlic

Coming from Castile-La Mancha region, is one of Spain's most unique products

In gastronomy, there are magical colors found in very special products. We're used to seeing red, yellow, and green... but purple is less common among culinary products.

One of these surprising products is purple garlic from Las Pedroñeras, which comes from the town of the same name, located in La Mancha, the homeland of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's mythical Don Quixote, in the Castile-La Mancha region. Interestingly, this town is known as the World Capital of Garlic, due precisely to the superior quality of the product that's grown here.

Purple garlic from Las Pedroñeras also has a Protected Geographical Origin seal that protects it. This is a special variety of garlic, a herbaceous biennial plant that is grown for its bulbs, i.e. garlic heads, and is harvested in the summer. The purple garlic heads from Las Pedroñeras have a spherical or round shape and are medium in size, with a characteristic violet or purple color that protects the cloves and which gives it its name.

Its peculiar features go beyond its color: it has a strong smell and a spicy and stimulating taste, which proves intoxicating to all the senses. To better appreciate these characteristics, all you have to do is cut one of its cloves. It's then when all of its appealing qualities are revealed for being used in the thousands of Spanish recipes in which garlic is an essential ingredient.

An important part of Spanish cuisine

An essential star: garlic is an indispensable ingredient in any self-respecting sofrito in Spanish gastronomy. It doesn't matter if it's prepared by home chefs or established chefs: adding a couple of cloves is an everyday occurrence that helps enrich any recipe. There are even dishes where it's the main ingredient, such as ajoblanco, in which it's mashed together with almonds and water to make a cold soup. Ajoblanco, alongside gazpacho, has a leading role as being among the best-known soups in Spanish gastronomy.

Garlic is also an essential part of Castile-La Mancha's gastronomic culture and is an indispensable condiment in preparing most of its dishes: atascaburras or ajoarriero (a mix of crushed potatoes and cod, with olive oil and garlic), caldereta (a lamb stew), moje or mojete de pimientos (a salad with peppers, tomatoes, egg and other ingredients), migas (a dish made of breadcrumbs, chorizo and grapes) gachas (made of grass pea flour, water, paprika, salt, garlic and meat), etc.

But as for purple garlic in particular, it's undoubtedly its unique character that makes many of the great chefs of the region—who are in a sweet spot at the moment thanks to their many Michelin stars—use it in their highest-level creations.

Chefs love it

This is true for Juan Monteagudo, from Michelin-star restaurant Ababol (Albacete, Castile-La Mancha) and ambassador for the gastronomic seal Raíz Culinaria, from the Castile-La Mancha region, who emphasizes its "subtle" aroma and "non-invasive" flavor. Monteagudo crushes it with the skin in order to extract all its juices: "It's better to do it this way than to simply slice it," he explains.

In the restaurant, this chef uses it as a base for sauces and broths as well as legume and game dishes. "We also usually roast it," says Monteagudo, instead of using it raw, which adds more nuances.

For Samuel Moreno, chef of the Michelin-star and Relais & Châteaux Molino de Alcuneza (Guadalajara, Castile-La Mancha), purple garlic flesh "is firmer, has a slightly sweeter flavor, and is much more aromatic." According to Moreno, "It's very good raw as a dressing or seasoning for a vinaigrette, cold soup, emulsion, meat or fish. But it's most digestible and delicious when roasted or confit. Moreno uses it to prepare a sauce "with garlic confit, truffle, and honey that's crazy. But a roasted garlic spread on toasted bread with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil is a delicious appetizer."

The Las Pedroñeras Purple Garlic cooking competition is held every year, which allows us to see how many chefs use this product. In 2023, some of the recipes presented by professional chefs were the purple garlic royale with cod cooked in garlic juice and roasted peppers, and roasted purple garlic curd and goat's milk. This shows that purple garlic can also be used in sweet recipes, precisely due to its elegance and subtlety.

Despite being an ingredient with strong roots in a specific part of Spain, it can be found all over the world. Both chopped and as a paste, it's able to cross borders and can be purchased in countries throughout Europe and in the United States. With respect to Europe, in recent years purple garlic exports have grown by 300%. According to Spanish government data, Spain went from exporting less than 9,000 tons of garlic to the US in 2018 to more than 24,000 tons in 2021.

Good for your health

In addition to being an almost magical ingredient in the kitchen, garlic from Las Pedroñeras is healthy. According to the PGI, it's a source of vitamin B6, which contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system and to the metabolism of homocysteine; in other words, it has protective cardiovascular effects. A unique ingredient: purple magic from the land of Don Quixote himself.