All across the nation, garlic scapes are popping up in droves at farmer’s markets. Upon seeing these clusters of spiraling verdant bulbs, one might ask: “What on earth are these and how do I even eat them?” While perhaps visually strange and unfamiliar, garlic scapes are an excellent way to get more use out of the garlic crop that is both nutritious and flavorful.
A garlic scape is essentially the spiraling flower bulb that curls out of the top of a garlic plant. Of the three main types of garlic (elephant, hardneck, softneck), only the hardneck variety is capable of growing these unique scapes, resembling thick, curly chives. This part of the plant is most often removed and thrown away so the plant can focus its energy on that prized garlic bulb growing underground – the part that most people use in everyday cooking. However, in recent years, removed garlic scapes are now sold right alongside the bulb. By using more of the garlic plant, the resources (water, fertilizer, land, etc.) that go towards farming that garlic will be creating more food and producing less waste.
But why have garlic scapes grown in popularity? Are they tasty enough to warrant sticking with them over the bulb? Well, the flavor profile of a garlic scape is really interesting, and not just as a replacement for regular garlic! While it still does in fact taste quite a bit like garlic, “garlicky” flavor is not a uniform one. This profile can be applied to many of garlic’s brethren in the allium (or onion) family, such as ramsons, chives, and even scallions. Garlic scapes might often be confused for green garlic, which is simply a young, still-growing, fresher garlic plant compared to the older plant you see most often. While similar to many alliums, when eaten fresh, garlic scapes manage to pack a punch of fresh garlic taste, just not as strong as the bulb. What distinguishes scapes from the bulb is a crunchy texture and strong vegetal notes, which gives them the qualities of both an herb AND a typical green vegetable. This unique complexity gives garlic scapes a variety of culinary applications.
Garlic scapes can naturally be used in a similar manner as garlic: chopped up and sautéed as an excellent base for background savoriness to any dish, while also providing an herbaceous note that regular garlic lacks. They can also be the star flavor component of a dish — and make for an excellent pesto when blended up with a few herbs, olive oil, salt, and pine nuts! Pickled garlic scapes are also a great snack or garnish, preserving their crunchy texture while adding a sour element and mellowing their intensity. If a garlic scape (or any veggie) is about to go bad, pickling is a great way to prevent food waste and have it last a while longer… not to mention that having a jar of pickled garlic scapes on hand can add instant tang, flavor, and texture to any dish. The possibilities for garlic scapes are endless, whether it be for zingy chimichurris, blending into soups, or even drying for a seasoning.
It’s an unfamiliar product to most, but making use of unfamiliar products is a fantastic way to shift trends towards a greater variety of produce. Eating local foods in new and exciting ways is a great way to live more sustainably. Plus, garlic scapes are fun to look at, cook with and even more so to eat!