Is There A Flavor Difference Between Hardneck And Softneck Garlic?

An ingredient's flavor can change drastically when cooked, and nowhere is this more true than with garlic. Eaten raw, garlic has a bite unrivaled by even the most intense onion. But cook it, and roasted garlic becomes sweet, mellow, and tender. Drop a whole head into a soup, and it's beautifully subtle. But one clove, crushed, minced, and stirred into a sauce, has an intensity of flavor that sings thanks to the release of the rich essential oils locked up inside the clove. No matter how you peel, slice, or dice it, garlic is one flavor no one ever forgets.

An everyday shopper can be forgiven for not knowing there is any other garlic variety, as much of what you will find at the grocery stores is one sort, but gardeners and garlic fans know that there are actually two varieties of garlic, hardneck and softneck. How can there be a difference in flavor between kinds of garlic? Garlic is garlic, right? Yes, and no. The difference between hardneck and softneck garlic lies in its intensity and whether or not it flowers. 

Scapes, necks, and leaves

Hardneck garlic plants grow with a rigid central stalk, around which the bulbs grow, as do additional small flowering stalks known as scapes. In order for the hardneck garlic to devote more of its energy to the bulbs underground, the scapes must be removed, which is why you will rarely find them for sale. Scapes are delicious on their own and have a mild, peppery flavor that's great for making pesto. Hardneck cloves will generally produce between four to twelve massive cloves with an intense, concentrated garlicky flavor. These varieties do, however, tend to perish quicker than the softnecks. 

Softneck garlic does not have a rigid central stalk, and rather than a flower, it grows leaves. Because of this, all of the energy the plant absorbs goes toward clove production. The head of a softneck garlic will contain potentially over thirty cloves of multiple sizes. The lack of a central stem also allows softneck garlic to mature faster. The resulting flavor is one that is far less assertive and has a rich, earthy undertone. 

If you're a big fan of the tang and bite of garlic, give hardneck cultivars like the Rocambole and Purple Stripe a try. If not, stick with the more common milder softneck varieties like Inchelium Reds and California Whites.