Is Garlic a Vegetable or an Herb

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Many people ask the same question in the kitchen – is garlic a vegetable, an herb or a spice? The answer to this question, however, is not as clear as you might expect.

Is Garlic a Vegetable or an Herb?

When discussing the proper classification of garlic, many people are quick to label it as an herb or spice, since it is typically added to other meals to add flavor or boost the nutritional value of a dish. Garlic is rarely eaten on its own, which is what many people use as a common classification for a vegetable.

Sliced garlic, garlic clove, garlic bulb in a wooden bowl placed on a chopping board

It is important to remember that garlic grows underground in the form of bulbs, similar to onions and shallots. This tends to give it more credibility as a vegetable than an herb or a spice. An herb, by definition, is something green, and typically includes stems and leaves. A garlic bulb doesn’t really fit that description. Similarly, a spice is a part of the plant that is dried and used for flavoring and typically comes from the bark, root or seeds, among others. Again, this doesn’t accurately describe the garlic bulb.

Garlic defies classification, similar to other vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, peppers, and pumpkins, among others. For all intents and purposes, garlic is classified as a vegetable, but people around the world will undoubtedly continue to debate this question. The way that a food is referenced or thought of culturally is almost as important as the botanical or horticultural classification it receives. Garlic is a perfect example of this flexibility in the language we use for the food we eat!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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