What Are Garlic Scapes and How Can You Cook with Them?

Updated: May 21, 2024

If you've never cooked with garlic scapes before, it's time to plan a trip to the farmers market in late spring or early summer.

Garlic is one of those staple vegetables that we take for granted. So many recipes start by sweating garlic and onions, and it’s a common ingredient in dressings, marinades and seasoning blends. Garlic scapes, though, are a beautiful springtime reminder that garlic is an ingredient that should be celebrated.

If you’ve never seen them before, that’s because they rarely make it to the grocery store. You’ll need to check out your local farmers market or join a CSA to benefit from this incredible garlic by-product.

What Are Garlic Scapes?

Like many colorful spring flowers, garlic is planted in the fall. Depending on the type of garlic (softneck or hardneck), different types of shoots emerge from the soil in the spring to indicate that the bulb is growing.

Most of us are familiar with softneck garlic because it’s what’s sold at the grocery store. This type of garlic has a long storage life and produces bright green leaves that grow upward as the bulb matures (you may know this by-product as “green garlic”). Hardneck garlic is a cold-hardy plant with a stronger flavor. This variety develops a flowering stem that we call a garlic scape.

As the season progresses, these scapes thicken and curl, ending in a flower bulb at the end. If left intact, the bulb will open to indicate that the garlic is ready to harvest. Most farmers choose to remove the garlic scape, though, because it helps the garlic grow larger.

Fun fact: Although garlic is often grown as an annual, it’s actually a perennial vegetable. Instead of harvesting all the bulbs, gardeners can leave a portion of them in the ground, and they’ll grow back every spring.

Garlic vs. Garlic Scapes

Visually, garlic and garlic scapes are very distinct. Garlic is a bulb with a papery coating, and it can be separated into multiple cloves. The scapes look like large chives or scallions and have a bright green appearance. They’re much longer than green onions, and the stalk curls around itself as it grows. At the end is a flower bulb, which will eventually open if it’s left in the ground.

Garlic cloves are pungent in aroma and taste, but they become sweet and buttery when roasted. Garlic scapes have the same bright garlic aroma, but they’re milder in flavor and don’t taste as spicy.

Most people describe them as a cross between chives and raw garlic, and they develop roasted garlic’s sweet flavor when cooked. They do not soften as much as garlic cloves and instead maintain a tender-crisp texture. Learn how to cook garlic scapes.

What Part of the Garlic Scape Do You Eat?

The whole garlic scape is edible, including the flower bulb at the end. Some people remove the bulb because it has a thinner texture than the rest of the stalk. It can taste fibrous when consumed raw and will cook at a different rate when sauteing or roasting scapes.

If the scapes have been on the plant for a long time, you might also want to remove the bottom stem, as it can become tough and chewy. You can snap these off where you notice the stem stiffen. Don’t throw them away though! Use these tough pieces like a bay leaf, simmering them whole in soups or stews and removing the stem before eating.

If you’re pureeing the scapes for soups or sauces, you can place the whole scape in the food processor. For stir-fry recipes, chop the stem into the desired size, anywhere from 2-inch pieces to tiny coins, depending on your preference. For raw applications, it’s best to thinly slice the scapes.

How and When to Harvest Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are harvested in late spring to early summer before the bulb at the end opens to reveal the seed pod. Locate the bottom of the scape and cut it off using a knife, being careful not to remove any of the tender leaves.

The garlic scapes will last for several weeks in the refrigerator when stored in a plastic bag with the corner of the bag slightly open for airflow. They can also be frozen for long-term storage. It’s best to blanch the scapes in boiling water for 30 seconds before freezing to stop enzyme activity and to preserve the garlic’s bright green color.

How to Use Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes can be used in any recipe that calls for garlic, including being used as a spice substitute for powdered garlic. If enjoyed raw, the scapes offer a pungent, sharp flavor, which mellows out and transforms into a delicate sweetness when cooked. Have you tried this garlic scape pesto recipe?

They’re fantastic when sauteed or stir-fried in vegetable or pasta dishes, but they can also be blended into dips or compound butters (try using scapes instead of basil for making pesto). If you have more garlic scapes than you know what to do with, preserve them in your favorite pickling brine.