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I was thinking how I'd write a recipe in Japanese which uses 2 garlic cloves, so I've put those terms on google translate and got the following results:

  • garlic: ニンニク
  • garlic clove: にんにく
  • garlic bulb: にんにく球根

The problem is that I see a lot of garlic bulbs when searching images for "にんにく" and I also realize "ニンニク" and "にんにく" are pronounced the same, which makes me think there's more to the way google is translating these terms, could anyone confirm if these terms are correct? And how would you differentiate between "garlic" and "garlic clove" in spoken Japanese?

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If you mean you use those words in cooking, we rather say like:

  • にんにく一玉【ひとたま】 or 一房【ひとふさ】: "a ball/bunch of garlic" = "a garlic bulb"

  • にんにく一片【ひとかけ】: "a chip of garlic" = "a garlic clove"

In your case, "2 garlic cloves" will be にんにく二片【ふたかけ】.

Or if you refer to "a garlic bulb" in the context of gardening, then:

  • にんにく一株【ひとかぶ】 or 一本【いっぽん】: "a root of garlic"

球根 "bulb" is a word you use to specify that part of garlic in contrast to other stalk or leaf etc. Usually the most useful part of the plant is the bulb, so you don't need to add it explicitly. "Clove" doesn't have an everyday noun as far as I know, but technically called 鱗片【りんぺん】.

にんにく and ニンニク are the same word, but biological terms tend to be written in katakana.

See also:

  • 2
    Interesting that both English and Japanese call/count a garlic "slice" by a different word than other kinds of slices (e.g. of an orange). It's the same in German as well ("Schitz" and "Zehe"). In fact, in German I don't think there is any use for "Zehe" other than referring to a slice of garlic. Not sure if it is the same in English. – ーーー Nov 29 '20 at 13:37
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    @Garbaz: The word "clove" can also refer to another spice in English, but the words just happen to be the same. The word for a piece of garlic comes from the same root as the verb "cleave" (meaning "split"), while the word for the spice comes from the French word for "nail" (due to its shape.) – Michael Seifert Nov 29 '20 at 18:34
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    @Garbaz Speaking about Japanese, we call each segment of orange 房 unlike garlic, because itself is a bag full of smaller vesicles. – broken laptop Nov 30 '20 at 5:41
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As @rebuuilt notes, ニンニク and にんにく are the same word written in two different syllabaries ("alphabets"). (There also exists a rarely used kanji representation 大蒜.)

The most common way to refer to a single clove of garlic is

1片

(or using kanji for the number: 一片) which can be read either ひとかけ hitokake or いっぺん ippen.

I think for a bulb of garlic one would usually just use a generic counter such as [1個]{いっこ} ikko, and not the word for (plant) bulb, which is more a botanical term. (In these sort of contexts Google Translate often reverts to word-by-word translation which is highly misleading.)

  • Are you sure about the ひとかけ reading? I can't find かけ as a reading for 片 anywhere. The closest I can find is 一欠片(ひと・かけ・ら). – ーーー Nov 29 '20 at 22:38
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    @Garbaz It's a special word only used for garlic and ginger AFAIK. You can also write it 一欠け. – broken laptop Nov 30 '20 at 5:46
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ニンニク (katakana syllabary) and にんにく (hiragana syllabary) are two different but equivalent ways of writing the same thing: garlic.

  • garlic: ニンニク or にんにく
  • garlic clove: ニンニクのひとかけ (based on this website: https://gourmet-note.jp/posts/2607)
  • garlic bulb: ニンニクの球根 or ニンニクの鱗茎 (I think 鱗茎 is a more specific term)

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