Ail - Garlic. Garlic in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


Garlic is an important herb.
But, it is not the most important herb in France.
Garlic flowers.
Fleur d’ail – Garlic flower; in the French kitchen little goes to waste. The garlic flower itself,  the green leaves and its scapes (buds), all with their light garlic taste and scent are important. They are used as additions to salads, sauces and wherever a very light garlic touch is needed without cooking. They are a pretty flower but think twice before using them to decorate your home; as a reader warned it can take a week to get the scent out of your home!

How garlic is used in French cuisine
Garlic’s place in the French kitchen cannot be conveyed better than by using a quote from France’s most famous, early 20th century, food critic.

Une caresse d'ail revigore, un excès d'ail endort.
A caress of garlic invigorates, an excess of garlic deadens.
Curnonsky - (1872-1956).
Author, food writer, and food critic.
Curnonsky, (Maurice Edmund Sailland), was, by far, the most knowledgeable and influential of all early 20th-century French food critics.
Garlic in French

Ail Garlic.
Gousse d’ail - An individual garlic clove.
Bulbe d'ail A bulb of garlic; that group of garlic cloves that grow together.

Garlic in French cuisine

You may not care, or may not be aware of the differences in the tastes of different garlic plants.  At home, whoever sees a particular type of garlic mentioned on the menu?  Many French chefs: however, make their customers aware when special herbs or spices are used and, in the season they may choose to remind the diner that different garlic plants have different tastes.

Garlic is way down the list of important spices. The most important herbs and spices are those that make up the herb and spice group called the Les Fine Herbes, the fine herbs. Neither, Les Fine Herbs herb or the Provencal herb and spice group called the Herbes de Provence, the herbs of Provence, include garlic.

What chefs look for in garlic.

Fresh garlic changes when cooked; its strong taste and odor changes and then harmonizes with other herbs and spices.  That change and harmony is the effect that chefs look for.  Garlic’s influence on flavor in the kitchen is very different from its cousins, which include the onion, the leek, the chive, and the shallot. Never look down on garlic and its family members that work in the kitchen as they all belong to the lily family.
Lily.... A close cousin of garlic.
Garlic heaven or garlic hell in France?

Forget the occasional travel horror stories that have visitors to France, returning home from a garlic-flavored hell.  I can only imagine these stories come from travelers who insist on going to the same bad restaurant every day!  French cuisine does not use garlic in even half of its recipes, and when garlic is used, it is mostly with a light touch.

Herb and spices in the French kitchen.

Herbs and spices are every French chef’s second right hand, or if the chef is a lefty, like two of my children, a second left hand. Garlic is used as a herb or a spice, and so that is how it will be referred to in this post and in the whole blog. By definition, garlic is a vegetable, but I am not going to confuse the readers with the facts.
Chopped garlic.

Ail or Ail Blanche – White Garlic.
White garlic is the garlic that stores best and is available as white leafed bulbs all year round.
White garlic on French Menus:

Grosses Crevettes Sautées à l'Ail et Flambée au Pastis – Large shrimps lightly fried in garlic and flambéed with Pastis, the traditional aniseed-flavored alcoholic drink. 

Pain Grillé Frotté à l'ail – Toasted garlic bread.

Assiette de Bulots à l' Aïoli -  A plate of whelks served with aïoli, the famous garlicky mayonnaise created in Provence. A plate of whelks with aïoli is a French Mediterranean, seaside, seafood restaurant, favorite; whelks are also served with mayonnaise or aïoli along the Atlantic coast.  Usually, a plate of French fries, chips, are served alongside.

White garlic
Ail Nouveau – New garlic.

Fresh garlic, new garlic, will be available from June through July, and then many French menus may note its role. French chefs prefer fresh garlic as its far more adaptable.
Entrecôte Grillée à L'ail Nouveau, Concassé de Tomates, Courgettes et Aubergines à la Plancha -  An entrecote steak grilled with fresh garlic and served with chopped tomatoes and courgettes (zucchinis in the USA) and aubergines (eggplants in the USA) prepared on a plancha.   A plancha, a planxa in Basque, is a solid, thick, flat sheet metal used for cooking; it achieves a cooking form and tastes somewhere between grilling and frying. 

Morilles Farcies à l’Ail Nouveau et Oignons Confits Morel mushrooms stuffed with fresh garlic and onions cooked as a confit; that is until they have become a sweet onion jam.    
Ratatouille à l 'Ail NouveauRatatouille, that unique Provencal dish made here with new garlic.    
New garlic
          L'Ail d'Automne - Fall garlic; fresh winter garlic.

Fresh fall garlic is on the market in France from late October through December, depending on the region; it will be part of many winter stews and soups.

Fall garlic on French Menus:

Fricassée d'Escargots et Pleurottes, Émulsion à l'Ail d’Automne. A snail stew; probably the gray snail, and oyster mushrooms with a thick sauce made with fall garlic.
Wild Garlic
Ail des Bois, Ail des Ours or Ail Sauvage
Latin - allium ursinum
Wild garlic grows all over Europe, the UK, and North America. There are other plants that do look somewhat similar, especially wild onions. Despite there looks, worry not, their clearly different smells make it hard to make a mistake. French market gardeners also grow wild garlic for restaurants, and wild garlic can be replanted in private vegetable patches.

Wild garlic leaves may be used raw in salads and cooked in other recipes; the wild garlic bulb itself is very small and generally imparts a lighter garlic taste and odor than the cultivated varieties. Despite that caveat, you should still be careful when cooking with wild garlic; I have had a dish where the wild garlic plants involved had obviously had not read this post.

Wild garlic on French menus:

Rôti de Porc à l'Ail des Bois – Pork roasted with wild garlic.
Filet de Pagre et Citron Confit, Pesto d'Ail Sauvage et Asperges Vertes – Filet of sea bream prepared with a lemon confit served with a pesto sauce made with wild garlic and green asparagusLemon confit, as with other fruit or other vegetable confits, will be slowly cooked and offered as a sweet jam or condiment.  The taste of the confit will be made to contrast with the main dish.
Crème de Céleri à l'Ail des Ours – A cream of celery soup flavored with wild garlic.
 Ris de Veau à l'Étuvée aux Champignons Crème à l'Ail Sauvage  - Steamed veal sweetbreads served with a button mushroom and wild garlic cream sauce.
Wild garlic in the languages of France’s neighbors:
 (Catalan - all de bruixa, all bord, all ursí, all d'ós), (Dutch - daslook ),(German - bärlauch, wilder knoblauch, waldknoblauch, ramsen),  (Italian - erba orsina, aglio orsino),  (Spanish - ajo silvestre, ajo de oso) (Latin  - allium ursinum).
Ail Doux – Sweet garlic.

Sweet garlic on the menu may come from a number of cooking techniques, including one that caramelizes white garlic. There are also a small number of plants that are related to garlic and have a sweet garlic taste. Also, menus will offer black garlic that is white garlic that passes through treatment invented in Korea and Japan. In France, some market gardeners raise a plant called Tulbahia, a distant member of the garlic family; its taste is sweeter than regular garlic, and yet it retains a light garlic taste and smell.

Sweet garlic on French menus:
Souris d'Agneau Braisée à l'Ail Doux et Romarin  -  The braised for-shank and knuckle of lamb flavored with sweet garlic and rosemary.

Médaillon de Lotte à l'Ail Doux – A medallion, a round cut of monkfish tail flavored with sweet garlic.

Ail Noire -  Black Garlic
Black garlic on French menus began to be imported from Japan or Korea twenty years ago but is now available from local producers.  This tasty garlic with its sweet overtones is an Asian invention using the white garlic bulbs. Black Garlic has its own post so for more in-depth information click here.
Peeled black garlic.

Black garlic on French menus:

Filet De Turbot à l'Ail Noir Japonais – A filet of turbot, the fish, prepared with Japanese black garlic.

Spaghettis à l'Ail Noir, aux Tomates Sèches et aux Copeaux De Parmesan – Spaghetti prepared with black garlic, dried tomatoes and served with shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Ail Géant or L’Ail Rocambole – Giant or Rocambole Garlic.
Rocambole garlic covers a number of large-sized members of the hard-neck garlic family. All the rocambole garlic family members are usually sold under the same name. On some menus, the rocambole garlic may be called the rocambole onion.

Rocambole garlic on French menus:
Cuisses de Grenouilles à La Rocambole – Frog’s legs prepared with rocambole garlic.
 Velouté de Patate Douce et Rocambole – A velvety soup made with sweet potatoes and flavored with rocambole.
Rocambole garlic is both cultivated and found in the wild, and it is appreciated for its stronger garlic taste.  Unfortunately, for those who prefer this particular garlic strain, it does not store well;  it will only be on menus for at most two months in the year.
Rocambole and long-neck garlic
Rocambole garlic in the language of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - rocambole), (Dutch - slangenlook), (German – rockenbolle, schlangen-knoblauch), (Italian - aglio romano, aglio romano rocambola), (Spanish - rocambola), (Latin - allium sativum var. ophioscorodon).  
Aillet– Young garlic or early garlic.
Aillet- Early Garlic
The French have a love of early vegetables, and that is no less true for garlic. But don't confuse young garlic with wild garlic; young garlic is regular garlic picked early when the full bulb has not yet formed. Young garlic has a single bulb at the end that, together with its leaves, looks quite similar to a spring onion. Young garlic in France is sold in farmers' markets. If you have the opportunity to taste one raw, you will find that the end is crunchy and sweet, with just a hint of garlic. Young garlic, together with its green shoots, will be added raw to a salad.
Young garlic on French menus:
Noix de Saint-Jacques Poêlées aux Aillets, Copeaux de Truffe Noire – The meat of the King Scallop fried with young garlic and served with shavings of the black truffle from Perigord.
Omelette à l'Aillet  - An omelet made with young garlic. The garlic taste will be very mild.

Ail Fumé - Smoked Garlic
Smoked garlic.

Smoked garlic provides a different taste and each area where smoked garlic is a specialty arrives at a different taste. An example is the Ail Fumé d'Arleux which is peat-smoked white garlic from the area around the town of Arleux. Arleux is in the Nord department in the new super region of Hauts-de-France in the north-east of France

Smoked garlic on French menus:
Le Coquelet Rôti à l'Ail Fumé d’Arleux  – A 4-6 week old cockerel oven roasted with the peat-smoked garlic from Arleux.

Gigot d'Agneau Piqué à l'Ail Fumé, Herbes Fraîches, Jardinière de Légumes – Leg of lamb studded with smoked garlic and fresh herbes and accompanied by diced cooked vegetables. Traditionally this was just carrots and turnips cut  4 – 5 mm long by about   3 cm across. Today a Jardinière de Legumes will often include other vegetables.

The town of Arleux is in the area traditionally called Flanders that borders Belgium.  Arleux has a smoked garlic fair, the Foire à l’Ail d'Arleux, the Arleux Garlic Fair, on the first Sunday in September. If you are in the area at that time visit and enjoy a taste that is different. Visiting the fair will introduce you to many dishes made using light touches of Arleux's smoked garlic.
Ail Rose, Ail Rouge, Ail Violette - Rose, Pink or Violet garlic.
Ail Rosé de Lautrec
These colorful garlic strains have a lighter and clearer flavor than white garlic, and that difference can be critical for a chef.  Each growing area claims theirs as the very best. When pink, rose or violet garlic is in the markets alongside other garlic plants, sniff and you will note how different the scent is to white garlic.
Ail Rosé de Lautrec, IGP, Label Rouge
The Pink Garlic of Lautrec.
In the garlic world, this is about as good as it gets.  The Ail Rosé de Lautrec garlic holds the Label Rouge, the red label, for its consistently high quality.    The village of Lautrec is in the department of Tarn in the Occitanie and the village is so beautiful that they do not even need their Label Rouge to sell their garlic; any visitor will buy their garlic because they will become entranced by the magic of the place.
Lautrec’s most famous citizen
Jules Chéret and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec with his poster.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi, 20 minutes from Lautrec
Grenouilles Sautées au Beurre d'Isigny et Ail Rose de Lautrec– Frog’s legs lightly fried in that unique AOC/AOP butter from Isigny together with the famous pink garlic of Lautrec.
Salade de Coquilles Saint-Jacques Écossaises à l'Ail Rose de Lautrec et Pignons de Pin -  A salad served with King scallops, imported from Scotland, and prepared with the pink garlic of Lautrec and pine nuts.
Despite the village’s magic, some of the residents of Lautrec are working very hard to promote this local garlic; these are the members of the Confrérie de l'Ail Rose de Lautrec, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Pink Garlic of Lautrec.  This confrérie organizes a Friday garlic market in season and an annual garlic festival at the beginning of August; their Fête de l’ail Rose à Lautrec.

Ail Violet de Cadour, AOP

The AOP, violet-colored, garlic of Cadour.
The violet-colored, garlic of Cadour, the only AOP garlic in France.  Here, as in Lautrec, all the villages in the immediate area are very much involved in the growing, promoting, selling or cooking this famous garlic.  Cadours is in the department of Haute-Garonne in the super région of the Occitanie and 34 km (21 miles) from Toulouse.
Escargot aux l’Ail Violet de Cadour – Snails prepared with the violet garlic of Cadour.      
The Cadour garlic has brought the town and the villages around a higher standard of living. If you want to try their violet garlic, visit the Cadours Fete d’Ail, the Cadour garlic festival held every year over the last weekend in August. The exact times are available from any French government Tourist Information Office.
Two more garlic celebrations;

for those who enjoy garlic.
Piolenc - The town in the department of Vaucluse in the région of Provence, Alpes du Sud,  27 km (18 miles)  from Avignon. The L’Aile en fête, their garlic fete begins the Wednesday before the last weekend in August through to the Sunday. That is five days of garlic celebrations In this small town of 5,000 they invite all the visitors to watch the preparation of a giant Grande Aïoli, and when it is ready, all the locals and all the visitors may enjoy. More information on their garlic fair at the French-language website of the local confrérie, the brotherhood, and sisterhood that organizes the fete;  use the Microsoft or Google translation apps for English:

Sainte-Helene - The village of Sainte-Helene is in the department of Gironde in the super region of  Nouvelle Aquitaine; just 30 km (18 miles) from Bordeaux.  Saint Helene has its Foire à l'Ail, their garlic fair, every year in the middle of September. The same time as the town’s Foire de Saint-Croix. Then their local restaurants, market stalls, parades will also help you taste the local wines and a wide range of garlic-flavored dishes, and other local delicacies.  Check the dates at the municipality’s French-language website and use the Bing or Google translation apps for English:

The town of Sainte-Helene is not to be confused with the island of Sainte-Helene. That Sainte Helens is in the middle of the Atlantic, where Napoléon I was exiled for the second and last time.  For more about Napoleon, I's link to the American FBI click here.  For more about Emperor Napoleon III's link to the creation of margarine click here.

Garlic and other food and wine fairs.
Most of these communal celebrations are organized by a local confréries, food-based brotherhoods, and sisterhoods that often also organize dinners celebrating their favorite, fruit, vegetable, herb or cheese.  If you are visiting an area where a confrérie is active, remember that these confréries are prominent local culinary organizations.  If you are invited to a confrérie celebration, or a fete organized by a confrérie, be prepared for plenty of their favorite product offered with massive amounts of wine and long rambling speeches, all in French.

Where did garlic come from?

Garlic was almost certainly brought to France by those early Middle Eastern wholesalers, the Phoenicians. That was long before the first Romans or the Greeks came to France 2,000 years ago. The Phoenicians would have bought their garlic plants from the Egyptians as those two ancient peoples were important trading partners. The Phoenicians were trading with Egypt over 3,000 years ago, and the ancient Egyptians had been using garlic for at least 1,000 years before the Romans and Greeks came to France. The Egyptians not only cooked with garlic but worshiped with it. Additionally, according to tradition, garlic was also fed to the slaves building the pyramids. Eating fresh garlic while making bricks, I believe, may have been another reason that convinced Pharaoh to allow the Children of Israel to leave!

The French have developed quite a number of garlic subs-species, and these garlic family members are mostly named after the place where they were first grown.

The abundant use of garlic, in France, is oft associated with Provençal cuisine, and the region of Provence does produce over 20% of all France’s garlic. Some Provençal dishes, such as aïoli, their very famous garlicky mayonnaise, has become internationally renowned. With the addition of popular local flavors, aïoli, been added to menus and cuisines in tens of countries around the world. All that being said, many Provençal recipes use no garlic at all.

Garlic in homeopathic medicine.
 Homeopathic doctors still recommended garlic for heart problems, high cholesterol, and even bad breath!  Historically, one of the French names for garlic was thériaque des pauvres, the cure of the poor. Before the availability of modern medicines, garlic was considered a cure-all, and probably garlic was all that the poor could afford. I suppose that the poor thought a whiff of garlic was better than nothing?

Garlic in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - L'all, l'all roig, el gra), ( Dutch - knoflook )(German -  knoblauch), (Italian – aglio), (Spanish-ajo), ( Provencal – alh).


The history of French cuisine is not written in stone and added to this post on garlic are my own value judgments. The history of French garlic includes much that I have collected from waiters, chefs, and market tradespeople.  To that I have added some French geography and food history connected to garlic.

The two important sources I use for checking my information on the origins of herbs and spices are Gernot Katzer from Austria and his Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages and Eric Schoenzetter from France, and his Toil d'Épices. I have used their knowledge to lay-to-rest many old wives' tales about garlic that I had been sold along the way. From Gernot Katzer, I also took many of his translations for garlic; his list includes garlic in over 120 languages! Any mistakes that have resulted are mine alone.

Garlic in other languages:

 (Amharic - ነጭ ሽንኩርት - netch shinkurt), (Arabic -  ثوم ),(Bulgarian – Чеснов лук, Чесън), (Chinese (Mandarin) -大蒜 – da saun), (Danish –hvidløg), (Dutch – knoflook), (Finnish -valkosipuli), (German -  knoblauch), (Greek – Σκόρδο -  skordo ) (Hebrew-  שום, shum), (Indonesian - bawang putih, kesuna).   (Italian – aglio), (Japanese -大蒜      - ニンニク - nin'niku, garikku   ), (Korean -갈릭마늘 - kallik, manul), (Malay - bawang putih), (Polish – czosnek pospolity), (Provencal – alh),   (Rumanian - usturoi), (Russian – чеснок - chesnok ) (Spanish – ajo),(Swedish - vitlök), (Tagalog -bawang ), (Turkish -  sarımsak), (Thai -  กระเทียมกะเทียม -   krathiam, gratiem, kathiam), (Ukrainian -Часник, Часник городній,Chasnyk, Chasnyk horodni), (Latin - allium sativum).


Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019

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  1. I didn't knew that Ail aux ours was eatable. I remember my mother making a bouquet with the little flowers... and an awful smell in the whole flat.
    Pay attention to fresh garlic, you expressly have to remove the germ, or you'll be sick !
    Garlic is more used in the south, specially in Provence.

  2. Wild garlic is both eatable and much appreciated. Unfortunately, as my article noted wild garlic does not grow well in the South of France, it needs a cooler climate. So while Provence does grow some 20% of all the garlic sold in France that excludes wild garlic and cultivated wild garlic. One word of caution wild garlic is generally much milder than regular garlic.....please note I said generally! Thank you for the warning on garlic flowers. I will not allow them in the house!



  3. My treatment on our local wild garlic here in the southeastern United States is here:


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