Bamberg Garlic

Ark of taste
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Bamberger Knoblauch, Gnobli, Gnubli

Bamberger Knoblauch refers to garlic (Allium sativum L.) that currently only exist in two cultivations in Bamberg, Germany, and in one in Hallstadt, Germany. Strictly speaking, garlic “varieties” are just different lines of the botanical species Allium sativum L., and so the term Bamberger Knoblauch should be understood as a collective term for the three Bamberg garlic lines. The two lines originating in the town of Bamberg were found in the Urbaner Gartenbau Bamberg (Bamberg Urban Horticulture) project and described in the final report of the Das grüne Erbe der Bamberger Gärtner: Eine Nutzpflanzenstudie über Bamberger lokale Gemüsesorten (The green heritage of Bamberg gardeners – a crop plant study of Bamberg’s local vegetable varieties) research project. An examination of the two local varieties in 2011 by the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research concluded that the Bamberg varieties must be deemed to be distinct lines. They are closely related and belong genetically to a group of southern European lines from France and Italy. The study did not include the third line from Bamberg’s neighboring town of Hallstadt, as it was only found in the course of an extended search in 2013.

In Bamberg, the garlic cloves are traditionally planted in the autumn and spend the winter in the field, giving them a growth advantage over spring planting so that they are somewhat larger at harvest. This is possible because waterlogging is not a problem in winter due to the loose sandy soil. Bamberger Knoblauch is characterized by its very mild nature. The small bulbs and cloves have a slight reddish color shortly after harvesting and later turn white. While the bulbs certainly did not reach the size of imported Greek or Egyptian garlic even in heyday of Bamberger Knoblauch, gardeners report that they used to be significantly larger. The three local varieties exhibit no significant differences in terms of size, flavor and appearance. Its second special characteristic, its unusually mild pungency, lets the delicate aroma fully come into its own, making the raw garlic on bread and butter an exquisite treat.

Garlic cultivation was very important for the local economy in the 19th century. Dried garlic, which was sold in bundles of 100 bulbs or 30 bulbs, was an established product on autumnal markets. By the end of the 20th century, Bamberger Knoblauch had vanished from the market. It owes its survival in three market gardens, where it was cultivated for personal use, to its outstanding flavor. It was this exceptional flavor that prompted the part-time gardener Karl Düsel to start cultivating Bamberger Knoblauch on a large scale around 1970. He put the few remaining cloves in the soil of his garden, and within a few years, he was the uncrowned “garlic king” – the source for Bamberg and Hallstadt gardeners.

However, from the 1960s onwards, Bamberg producers transitioned from marketing their produce directly to marketing via wholesalers, and the resulting competition from inexpensive imported varieties very nearly led to Bamberg garlic’s extinction. It survived by being cultivated in tiny amounts for personal consumption by individual commercial growers. The variety’s continued existence will be severely threatened if efforts to grow larger quantities and to reintroduce it on the market – at least locally – do not succeed. By 2014, two local varieties were currently being grown and propagated in four commercial gardens in the town. The local Hallstadt variety is being grown by its owner in a private garden and is slated to be maintained in the Bamberg variety garden as well. Today, Bamberger Knoblauch is available for purchase in small quantities directly from a few growers in Bamberg.

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