Garlic scapes are the unsung hero of the edible garden but they're often discarded. Here’s why you should be adding them to pestos, stir-fries and more.

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If you've noticed curly green stalks jutting out of the garlic leaves in your garden, you may have just stumbled upon some magic for your next meal: garlic scapes. If you want to make use of this bonus piece of produce, read on about what garlic scapes are and how you can use them.

What Are Garlic Scapes?

Garlic scapes are edible flower stalks that grow out of the garlic bulb. The stalks are actually developing flower buds from the hardneck garlic plant—a type of garlic—and look similar to green onions, curling as they get longer. The ends are tender, but as they grow, the stalks harden near the base of the plant.

Hardneck Garlic vs. Softneck Garlic

Almost all garlic bulbs you find at the grocery store are softneck garlic. (Because the "necks" are soft, these are the bulbs that are often woven into braids.) Both hardneck and softneck garlic bulbs sprout leaves, but only hardneck garlic sprouts scapes. It's the hard stalk of the scape that gives the garlic a "hard neck," hence the name. Typically, farmers prune the garlic scapes so the plant's energy can go toward growing bigger bulbs. Since you won't get garlic scapes from softneck garlic, that means the best places to get garlic scapes are from the farmers' market or from a home garden.

Garlic scapes
Credit: Getty Images

Cooking with Garlic Scapes

If you grow garlic at home, don't let the scapes go to waste! They offer an unexpected way to add flavor to meals. Not surprisingly, garlic scapes have a pungent garlic flavor, but it's not quite as intense as the cloves themselves. Cooked, the intensity eases into a sweetness similar to roasted garlic.

Home cooks can get creative with scapes. You can use them in some of the same ways you would use green onions: they can be sautéed with olive oil, or grilled or roasted by themselves or with green beans or squash as a side dish. For a main dish, they can be thrown into stir-fries for a little garlic flavor.

If you want to try them raw, you can chop them up and toss them in a salad or sprinkle them on dishes the way you might use chives as a garnish. If you really want to maximize their use, EatingWell's Garlic Scape Pesto recipe blends them with olive oil (you can add pine nuts if you'd like) to toss into pasta, stir into soups or spread on a sandwich. Another option to stretch your bounty is pickled garlic scapes: pickle them like you'd pickle other vegetables and you can have a bite of spring even in the middle of winter (follow the canning instructions if you want to store your pickles for more than a month).

Garlic Scape Pesto

Pictured Recipe: Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scapes Season

If you get your hands on some garlic scapes, consider yourself lucky. Garlic scapes are only available for about two weeks a year–4-6 weeks before garlic bulbs are harvested. However, when those precious two weeks land on the calendar varies from region to region. From the time of planting, it takes about nine months for garlic to mature, so the scapes are ready a little more than seven months after planting.

How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

In the spring, you'll start to notice the tender stalks popping out of the center of the leaves. When they start to bend, check to see how long they are. You can harvest them when the curly green stalks are about six inches long. All you do is clip them right above the hard part of the stalk.

Storing Garlic Scapes

Even though scapes are only around for two weeks, you can enjoy them for a little while longer than you would green onions or chives. Cleaned and dried, you can refrigerate them in an airtight container or a zip-top bag and they'll last about three weeks.