You may have come across garlic scapes at your local farmers’ market. They are usually available in late spring through to early summer, and are sold in fat bunches of curly green stalks that smell enticingly of garlic.
These tender, fragrant veggies are actually the stems and unopened buds of the hardneck garlic plant, a particular variety of garlic that prefers cooler climates and is typically grown in Canada and the northeastern USA. Scapes grow directly from the garlic bulb, and if you’ve ever left garlic too long before using it you may have seen a baby scape starting to germinate. Farmers generally cut the scapes away to encourage the plant to put more energy into those fat, pungent bulbs we all know and love, but as the scapes have a delicious flavour all of their own, they don’t have to go to waste.
Garlic scapes look a little like wild onions, or long, thin, curly beans, and their flavour is milder and more mellow than their bulbs, with ‘greener’ grassier notes, and a hint of shallots or chives. Their texture is tender, with a pleasant bite, a little like asparagus. The bulge in the middle of the stem is an unopened flower bud, and is perfectly edible, but is sometimes discarded as it is less tender than the rest of the stem. For the tenderest plants, choose younger, shorter scapes with just one curl and a healthy, bright green colour.
Because of their similar flavour, garlic scapes are sometimes confused with green garlic, but these two ingredients come from different parts of the plant, and also tend to be taken from different garlic varieties. Garlic scapes are the flowering stalks of hard-necked garlic varieties, while green garlic is the immature bulb of soft-necked varieties grown in temperate or warmer climates.
Garlic bulbs have long been recognised for their many potential health benefits, and many of these beneficial properties seem to run in the family. Here are some of the positive health outcomes garlic scapes can help to promote when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Like garlic cloves, scapes are thought to help boost circulation. They have also been linked to increased oxygenation of the blood, which can boost energy levels and help your body to repair itself more quickly.
Garlic scapes contain active compounds called allicin and allium, which are thought to inhibit the creation of certain enzymes that speed up the breakdown of bone tissue. This can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is particularly important for older people.
Reduced risk of chronic diseases
Garlic scapes are a great source of antioxidants, which help protect your cells against oxidative damage. This can also help to protect against other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and autoimmune diseases.
Garlic scapes are a good source of beta-carotene, a type of antioxidant specifically linked to improved vision, including lower rates of macular degeneration, and slower growth of cataracts.
How to use garlic scapes in the kitchen
With their garlic-light flavour and tender texture, scapes can be used as a vegetable or a seasoning, which means there are tons of delicious ways to add them to your diet. As a vegetable, they can be steamed or sautéed and eaten as a side, used as a flavourful addition to stir-fries, roasted and served with dip, or deep-fried in tasty tempura batter.
As a garnish or seasoning, scapes can be diced and added to anything that needs a hint of pungency, in much the same way as you might use spring onions or chives. They taste great stirred into risottos, scrambled egg and mashed potato, sprinkled over pizzas, or added to savoury bakes like quiches or cheese scones. You can even blend them into a purée and add them to hummus, dips or soups.
Garlic scapes tend to be a seasonal item, and are often only available in late spring through to early summer. The good news is that there are plenty of simple ways to store and preserve them if you want to enjoy them all year round.
In the refrigerator
If you’ve just bought a big bunch of scapes, and you want to keep them fresh for a couple of days, the refrigerator is the best place for them. To keep them fresh for up to three weeks, place them cut side down in a jam jar, like a bunch of flowers, changing the water every day or two. You can also refrigerate them wrapped in damp paper towels and placed inside a bag, which should keep them fresh for up to a week
In the freezer
To freeze garlic scapes, blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds to kill any bacteria, then dip them into cold water to stop them from cooking. Cut them up into manageable pieces, spread them out on a baking sheet and leave them in the freezer for about an hour until they are fully frozen. This prevents them from freezing in one big clump, making it easier for you to take what you need when you need it. Once frozen, put the scapes into a freezer bag and store for up to a year.
Dried scapes can be used like a dried herb, to add a delicious garlic flavour to your favourite dishes. Simply cut them up and put them in a dehydrator for 6 to 8 hours. Store in an airtight container alongside your other spices, and they should last for several months.
Pungent flavours like scapes pair beautifully with the tartness of vinegar, which is one of the reasons pickled onions are such a classic. To make pickled scapes at home, blanch and chop them as you would for freezing, making sure they are thoroughly dried. Put them in a clean, airtight container with some rice vinegar, and leave the flavours to develop for about 2 months. Stored in this way, they should last for up to 6 months.
There are so many ways to cook this tasty and versatile vegetable. Here are just a few of our favourite recipes from around the web.
Garlic scapes recipe: sometimes the simplest recipes are the best, and this beautifully-seasoned side from Homemade and Yummy lets the subtly aromatic flavour of the scapes speak for itself.
Arugula and garlic scapes pesto: garlic scapes add a mellow pungency to peppery arugula and sharp pecorino cheese in this punchy alternative to classic pesto from Food 52.