Understanding the Distinctions Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic

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What is the difference between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic? What is the best kind for my garden? Are you planning to plant garlic this year but are confused about where to start?

Garlic is a staple ingredient in kitchens worldwide, adding depth and aroma to many different dishes. Understanding the differences between hardneck and softneck garlic can help elevate your cooking and how you handle them in the garden. Let’s start with the basics of the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic. The differences can help you determine which garlic type is the best for your garden goals.

About Hardneck and Softneck Garlic

Garlic is part of the Allium family of plants. There are hundreds of varieties of garlic but these varieties break out into 2 subspecies: hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) and softneck (Allium stativum var. sativum). Each subspecies has specific characteristics that will help to determine if it is the right garlic choice for your garden. Each has its unique traits, influencing taste, appearance, and cultivation.

As consumers and home gardeners, knowing the nuances between these garlic types allows us to make informed choices in growing garlic and ensuring the dishes we cook are not only flavorful but also align with our taste preferences.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic bulbs and garlic cloves in a wooden bowl
Hardneck Garlic Bulbs and Cloves

Hardneck garlic is easily recognizable by its stiff central stalk, known as a scape, and large cloves arranged in a circular pattern. When you harvest and cure the hardneck garlic it has a hard stem that is surrounded by one layer of garlic cloves. Since there is only one layer of garlic cloves, hardneck garlic tends to have fewer cloves per bulb but they are also larger in size.

Growing Conditions for Hardneck Garlic

If your garden is located in a colder climate, then hardneck garlic is the best choice for planting in your garden. Thriving in cooler climates, hardneck garlic is commonly found in regions with harsh winters. It is more winter hardy and is the type of garlic I grow in my garden in zone 6b. It requires well-drained soil and benefits from a period of vernalization, where it experiences a cold winter.

Garlic Scapes

In spring the hardneck garlic center stem produces a garlic scape. Garlic scapes are the curly, green, and slightly tender stems that emerge out of the tops of hardneck garlic bulbs. Only hardneck garlic varieties produce garlic scapes. Garlic scapes typically appear in late spring or early summer, signaling that the garlic bulbs are maturing underground. Garlic scapes have a concentrated garlic flavor but are often milder than the garlic bulbs themselves.

Harvesting garlic scapes involves cutting them off just above the top set of leaves. You should harvest the garlic scapes to ensure the plant puts most of its energy into producing the garlic bulb. Scapes are typically ready to harvest when they form one or two curls.

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Hardneck Garlic Flavor Profile

Many people believe hardneck garlic has more flavor and is easier to peel than its softneck counterpart. Harneck garlic tends to have a more robust and complex flavor. Its taste can range from spicy to earthy, making it a favorite among chefs for its boldness. Hardneck garlic is preferred in dishes where a pronounced garlic taste is desired, such as roasted vegetables, sauces, and artisan breads.

Hardneck seed garlic bulbs
Hardneck Garlic Bulbs

Popular Hardneck Garlic Varieties

1. Rocambole Garlic

  • Characteristics: Rocambole garlic is known for its rich and complex flavor. The bulbs typically have a reddish-brown skin and are composed of several large cloves.
  • Growing Conditions: Thrives in colder climates and requires a period of winter chill for optimal growth.

2. Porcelain Garlic

  • Characteristics: Porcelain garlic varieties are recognized for their large, white, and porcelain-like bulbs. The cloves have a robust and spicy flavor.
  • Growing Conditions: Well-suited for colder climates with a preference for well-drained soil.

3. Purple Stripe Garlic

  • Characteristics: This variety is distinguished by its purple-striped skin. Purple Stripe garlic offers a full-bodied, rich taste with a moderate level of heat.
  • Growing Conditions: Grows well in various climates and is adaptable to different soil types.

4. Marbled Purple Stripe Garlic

  • Characteristics: Marbled Purple Stripe garlic features beautiful, purple-streaked cloves. The flavor is robust and can vary from mild to spicy.
  • Growing Conditions: Well-suited for regions with colder winters.

5. Hardneck Turban Garlic

  • Characteristics: Turban garlic varieties have distinctive, flattened bulbs with a papery skin. They offer a mild and somewhat sweet garlic flavor.
  • Growing Conditions: Suitable for a range of climates, including milder regions.

Hardneck Garlic Storage

Once cured the hardneck garlic does not store as long as the softneck garlic, so make sure to check it often while in storage. Store hardneck garlic in a well-ventilated, dark place.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck Garlic bulbs and cloves broken open on a counter
Softneck Garlic Bulbs

If you prefer garlic which is more like the kind you would find in most grocery stores, you’ll want to take a look at softneck garlic. Softneck garlic lacks the stiff central stalk and scape, presenting a more flexible and pliable stem. The softneck garlic bulbs are usually smaller, can have several layers of garlic cloves, and are surrounded by several layers of papery skin.

Growing Conditions for Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is more adaptable to a variety of climates, including milder and warmer conditions. Softneck garlic should be grown in warmer climates because it is not as cold hardy. It thrives in well-drained soil and doesn’t require vernalization.

Softneck Garlic Flavor Profile

Softneck garlic tends to have a milder and sweeter flavor, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of culinary applications. It is often preferred in dishes where a subtle garlic flavor is desired, such as salad dressings, pasta dishes, and marinades.

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Popular Hardneck Garlic Varieties

1. Artichoke Garlic

  • Characteristics: Artichoke garlic bulbs have many cloves arranged in layers, similar to an artichoke. The flavor is mild and versatile.
  • Growing Conditions: Well-adapted to various climates, including milder and warmer regions.

2. Silverskin Garlic

  • Characteristics: Silverskin garlic is known for its white bulbs with a silvery-white skin. The cloves are small, and the flavor is mild and well-balanced.
  • Growing Conditions: Thrives in diverse climates and is suitable for long-term storage.

3. Creole Garlic

  • Characteristics: Creole garlic varieties often have a reddish or purple tint to the skin. The flavor is robust, with a spicy kick.
  • Growing Conditions: Prefers milder climates and is well-suited for warmer regions.

4. Turban Softneck Garlic

  • Characteristics: Turban Softneck garlic has a mild flavor and is known for its flexible neck, making it easy to braid. The bulbs are generally smaller.
  • Growing Conditions: Adaptability to a range of climates, including milder conditions.

5. Silver White Garlic

  • Characteristics: Silver White garlic features white bulbs with a papery skin. The flavor is mild and slightly sweet, making it a versatile choice in the kitchen.
  • Growing Conditions: Well-suited for various climates, with good adaptability to different soil types.

Storage of Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic has a much longer storage life than hardneck garlic because they have multiple layers of protective skin on the garlic cloves. Since softneck garlic does not contain the hard center stem it can be braided together for storage. Store softneck garlic in braids or in mesh bags.

Braided softneck garlic bulbs
Braided Softneck Garlic Bulbs

Which garlic is right for my garden?

As you can see there are many things to like about both hardneck and softneck garlic. Ultimately you will need to figure out what characteristics you are looking for in the garlic you plant. Consider your culinary preferences when choosing between hardneck and softneck garlic. Evaluate your local climate and gardening conditions. Think about how long you intend to store your garlic.

Hardneck

If you live in a location that gets pretty cold in the winter, you will want to choose hardneck garlic, since it is much more cold-hardy. A great way to get two harvests out of your garlic is to choose the hardneck variety, it will give you the delicious scape in spring and the garlic bulb in summer. There are many ways to preserve garlic scapes that I have included in another blog article.

A bunch of curly garlic scapes sitting on a marble counter top.
Garlic Scapes

Softneck

If you are looking to grow a lot of garlic and store it for use over the rest of the year, you probably want to choose a softneck garlic. Looking for garlic similar to what you find in the grocery store, then plant the softneck variety.

Would you like to experiment on which one would be best for your garden why not try both hardneck and softneck garlic? This will give you a great idea on if both types of garlic would work in your climate. Are you looking for additional information on hardneck vs. softneck garlic? I recommend you find the book Growing Great Garlic By Ron Engeland. It is a great resource to have on hand if you are growing garlic in your garden.

Here are some additional Garlic Resources for you:

I would love to hear which garlic you choose as the right garlic for your garden. Let me know in the comments what you choose to grow.

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