How to Use Garlic Scapes (and When to Harvest Them)

Jim Robinson

By Jim Robinson

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Garlic scapes are a natural byproduct of growing hardneck garlic, but few gardeners put them to use. Find out why you shouldn’t overlook this versatile veggie and how to use it in your cooking.

Raw Green Organic Garlic Scapes Ready to Use.
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Garlic scapes are one of the most overlooked types of produce in the garden, which is a shame because this vegetable is highly versatile, easy to use, and delicious!

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to harvest, use, and store garlic scapes so you can put this multitalented veggie to use in your kitchen.

What Are Garlic Scapes?

A garlic scape is the flower bud and stem that develops on hardneck garlic varieties about one month before the garlic head is ready to harvest. 

When young, these scapes have a curled shape and very tender flesh. As they mature, the stalk straightens and becomes more fibrous. If left on the plant, the scape will eventually produce a puff-ball-like flower with dozens of tiny white or purple blossoms.

Young, tender scapes have a milder flavor than garlic and a crisp texture. When raw, they taste like a cross between garlic, chives, and shallots with a subtle onion flavor and none of that garlic spiciness. When cooked, they take on a sweeter flavor, similar to roasted garlic.

It’s possible to get scapes to grow on some varieties of softneck garlic by stressing them into bolting. But if you want a large and predictable harvest of scapes, you need to plant a hardneck variety, as these always produce flowers. I use this German extra hardy variety from Baker Creek.

When to Harvest Them

Garlic plants typically produce scapes about one month before the garlic head is ready for harvest. Depending on the type of garlic you planted and your specific climate, your scapes will be ready for harvest in late spring or early summer.

Garlic scape in vegetable garden. Plantation of garlic plant. Growth crop at organic farm.
encierro/Shutterstock

Once the scape stalks begin to develop, keep a close eye on them. You want to harvest them once they have reached a decent length, but before they begin to uncurl. The tighter the curl, the more tender the scape.

If you’re growing garlic for the bulb rather than the flower stalks, you’ll still want to harvest the scapes. This is because removing these flower stalks will help reserve more energy for growing larger garlic heads. So if you harvest your scapes, not only will you get more usable greens out of your garden, but the garlic you harvest later will be even bigger.

How to Harvest

When you harvest garlic scapes, you want to remove just the thick, round flower stem and leave the leaves intact. You can do this by pulling on the scape or by cutting it with pruners.

If you pull on the scape to remove it, be sure to gently hold the leaves of the plant below where the scape attaches to ensure you don’t accidentally pull up the entire bulb. The benefit of using this method is that you can easily get the entire scape which makes for a larger harvest.

A large basket filled with freshly harvested garlic scapes.
Nancy Kennedy/Shutterstock

An easier way to remove the scape is to cut it with scissors or pruners. To do this, simply locate the point where the scape meets the leaves and cut it just above this junction. This method is much quicker but you may leave behind a little bit of each stalk.

The entire garlic scape is edible, including the bulb at the end. This bulb tends to be a bit more fibrous than the stalk when eaten raw. But if cooking your scape, I recommend using the bulb as well, just be aware that it will cook faster than the rest of the scape.

What to Do With Garlic Scapes

Much like scallions and chives, garlic scapes can be used to add flavor to just about any savory meal. But these allium vegetables are even more versatile thanks to their crisp texture and unique flavor.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use garlic scapes.

In Place of Scallions

The stalks of garlic scapes can be used in place of scallions in pretty much any recipe. You can cook them as you would scallion whites or use them raw as you would with scallion greens. In either case, they will add an extra complexity to the flavor of the dish with notes of garlic, onion, and shallot.

As a Garnish

Garlic scapes have a wonderfully pleasing raw flavor. It isn’t as spicy as garlic or as pungent as raw onion. This makes it a great option for garnishing savory dishes.

I like to slice my garlic scapes into thin disks and use them in place of chives and scallion greens. This is an especially helpful trick if your scapes mature after your scallions have become too fibrous to use as a garnish. 

Make a Pesto

You can use your garlic scape harvest to make a deliciously garlicky pesto sauce. All you need is a handful of scapes, some walnuts or pine nuts, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices. The flavor is intense and complex and goes a long way so a little does a lot.

I use it as a spread on crusty bread, as a dip, and as a pasta sauce. This recipe is easy to customize to your tastes. If you’re looking for some inspiration, I recommend taking a look at this garlic scape pesto recipe from Vanilla and Bean.

Pickle Them

Pickling garlic scapes is not only a great way to preserve your harvest, but a wonderful way to enjoy the unique flavor of this veggie. The crisp texture holds up well to pickling, creating a product that’s as satisfying as a crunchy dill pickle but with a lot more flavor.

You can use our quick pickling method or true pickling to make garlic scape pickles. For a step-by-step pickled garlic scape recipe, check out this article. However you make them, pickled scapes make a great topping for burgers, sandwiches, salads, and more.

Make Compound Butter

Garlic scapes make an excellent (and very tasty) compound butter. But for the best results only use very young and tender scapes and make sure you blanch them first. 

Once they’re prepared, simply mince them thoroughly then mash them with butter, salt, and lemon juice until fully incorporated. This compound butter makes an excellent topper for steak, steamed veggies, rice, crusty bread, and so much more.

Create Flavored Salt

Making your own flavored salts is a great way to use extra herbs from the garden, and garlic scapes are no exception. This salt has a pleasant garlic salt flavor but without that intense garlicky aftertaste (and odor). Use it as a spice or seasoning on just about any savory dish.

To make garlic scape salt, start by roughly chopping your scapes. Add them to a food processor along with your salt of choice until you get a consistent paste. Spread it on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 250 degrees for about an hour.

Make Hummus

Garlic scapes make for a wonderful flavoring for homemade hummus. They add a delicious garlic flavor that is subtler than what you get when using roasted garlic. Plus, this option is even easier to make.

To start, add your scapes, lemon, chickpeas, and a little salt to your food processor. Pulse, adding olive oil as needed to get a smooth final product. For more specific directions, check out this garlic scape hummus recipe from Oats and Sesame. 

Add to Pasta

Another simple way to put your scapes to use is to add them to pasta. They can be sliced and used as a garnish, sauteed, or cooked in the sauce. My favorite preparation is to cut the scapes into larger chunks, saute them in butter, then toss them with pasta and parmesan. 

You can also cook the scapes with a variety of other vegetables. They taste great with both red sauces and white and work well with many different kinds of pasta.

In Place of Garlic or Onion

If you have an abundance of scapes and don’t know how else to use them, you can always add them to recipes in place of onion or garlic. This allium vegetable has many of the same flavor notes as these two common ingredients but is much more subtle. This makes it a great substitution if you don’t like the intense zestiness or spice of garlic and onions.

How to Store Garlic Scapes

Each garlic plant only produces a single garlic scape. For most gardeners, this makes for a relatively small harvest. But if you went all-out on planting garlic or got lucky with a scape-filled CSA box, you may have more garlic scapes than you know what to do with.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to know the best option for storing them, short and long-term.

In the Fridge

For short-term storage, the fridge is your best option.

Start by lining a plastic bag or reusable silicone bag with damp paper towels or a damp, clean cloth. Place whole, unwashed scapes inside and put the bag in the refrigerator. They should stay good for up to six weeks.

Pickled

For longer-term storage, pickling your scapes is a great way to go. Obviously, this changes the flavor a bit and limits their uses. But pickling them can extend their shelf life by up to a year.

How long your pickled scapes will last depends on your pickling method. Quick pickles will stay good for about 3 months in the fridge if unopened. Canned pickled scapes (i.e. water bath canning) will last twelve months or more.

Frozen

Freezing your garlic scapes is the easiest way to make them last longer. You can do this in a variety of ways.

Freezer Bags

The easiest way to freeze garlic scapes is to simply put them in a ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, and place the bag in the freezer. To make things even easier, I recommend chopping, slicing, or mincing them first, depending on how you are most likely to use them when they come out.

Thawed scapes tend to lose a bit of that crispness, so they are harder to cut once they come out of the freezer. Cutting them into small pieces before freezing them also makes it easier to get the air out of the bag. Removing the air helps preserve the flavor better while also adding to the shelf life.

Garlic scapes frozen this way will last up to six months.

Ice Cube Trays

Another great option for freezing scapes is to use ice cube trays. This is an especially great choice if you tend to only use a small portion of scapes at a time.

Start by slicing or mincing your scapes. Then place a single portion in each section of the tray. Add water to fully submerge the scapes, then pop the tray in the freezer.

Thaw these garlic scape ice cubes as needed, then strain to remove the water.

You can also fill the cubes with olive oil or melted butter and then freeze. This is a great option if you plan to saute the scapes. 

Ice cube scapes will last about a year in the freezer.

Blanch and Freeze

Garlic scapes hold their flavor pretty well in the freezer, but they won’t taste exactly like fresh scapes once thawed. One way to help better preserve this flavor is to blanch your scapes before freezing.

To do this, plunge your whole scapes into boiling water and leave for two minutes. Immediately remove and plunge them into an ice bath.

Once they’ve cooled, you can slice or mince them as needed. Place them in a freezer bag or use the ice cube method, depending on how long you need them to keep.

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