Down & Dirty: Garlic Scapes

July 13, 2012

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which Nozlee Samadzadeh breaks down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more by the numbers.

Garlic is a funny -- and extremely versatile -- plant: it's planted in the late fall, after most other plants are done for the season, and sleeps all winter long before sprouting come springtime. The bulbs aren't ready to harvest until summer -- and even then they need a weeks-long curing period to dry them out for long-term storage. Fortunately, there are other ways to get your garlic fix in spring and early summer. Young garlic is one -- the bulbs are soft, mild, and not yet hardened into cloves -- and garlic scapes are another.

What is a scape? Quite simply, it is the stem that a hard-neck garlic plant sends up to bear flowers when it reaches maturity. (Soft-neck garlic plants generally don't produce flower stalks.) Even if they weren't wonderful to cook with -- mild and tender, they provide garlicky flavor without sharpness -- it would be necessary to pick them out anyway. The energy that the plant would put into producing garlic flowers gets channeled into the bulbs instead, improving their quality and size. Here's everything you need to know about garlic scapes, from the farmers' market to the kitchen.

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1. Flower Power - Unless you'll be braising your scapes, the area from the tip of the scape to the yellow bulb that would have grown a flower should be trimmed and discarded -- this part is generally tough and dry.

2. Going Loopy - When buying scapes at market, look for stems that have at least one or two "loops." A mature scape should be quite long, firm, and about 1/4 inch in diameter -- much older scapes will be dried out, and much younger ones will be too small and not as flavorful.

3. Stem Ends - To harvest a garlic scape, you simply cut the scape where the stem meets the shaft of the plant. Look for clean cuts on the bottom of the scape, a sure sign that they've been properly cut instead of pulled out, potentially damanging the garlic plant.

4. Chopping Block - You can use scape stems whole, whether you use them as barbecue skewers or braise them in a sauce. For cooking, however, the easiest way to break them down is by cutting across the stem to make tiny rounds -- like you'll find in Amanda's squash blossom frittata and Tom's chicken under a brick. If you're making scape pesto, a rough chop should do it.

Did we miss anything? What's your favorite way to cook with scapes? Have you ever harvested them yourself? (I have -- it's fun!)

Scape Satay

Scape Frittata

Scape Chicken

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carol Gedeon
    Carol Gedeon
  • KosherInDetroit
  • viblanco
  • EDIE42
  • Fairmount_market
I'm Nozlee Samadzadeh, a writer, editor, farmer, developer, and passionate home cook. Growing up Iranian in Oklahoma, working on a small-scale organic farm, and cooking on a budget all influence the way I cook -- herbed rice dishes, chicken fried steak, heirloom tomato salad, and simple poached eggs all make appearances on my bright blue kitchen table. I love to eat kimchi (homemade!) straight from the jar and I eat cake for breakfast.


Carol G. August 3, 2014
Where do you buy scapes, I have never seen them
KosherInDetroit June 17, 2013
Harvesting the scape by pulling them out of the plant does not lead to structural damaging of the plant. I was originally worried about this method, but after hearing that many other farms did this without any ill effects (lack of structural integrity, mold, etc…), I decided to try it out, and it worked. This is a clean and simple method of harvesting that should not inhibit you from buying them at market.

Also, feel free to treat scapes like garlicky chives or scallions, roast 'em like asparagus to release more sugars, or use in a pesto (I prefer walnuts over pine nuts with my scapes)
viblanco July 15, 2012
Not to be too boring, but I typically use our harvested scapes to make a pesto to serve with pasta, spread with bread or put atop black beans and rice.
EDIE42 July 15, 2012
Getting ready to harvest my first attempt to grow garlic and wondered what to do with the snakey scapes. Thanks for all the great information and keeping me from discarding this amazing side benefit of the harvest into the compost heap.
Nozlee S. July 16, 2012
Oh!! I'm so happy that I could be helpful, it would have been a shame if you had tossed them! Also I'm jealous of your garlic plants -- that's so cool.
Fairmount_market July 14, 2012
I've been make some delicious garlic scape pesto pizza. It works as a base for all sorts of toppings.
shecans July 14, 2012
In my opinion, pickling's the only way to go! Pencil thin kosher dills - they're a hit!
pqmommy July 14, 2012
I cut them into 2 inch lengths, sauté them, and serve them as a side unto themselves. They taste like garlicky green beans....delish!
mrslarkin July 13, 2012
I LOVE scapes! I used them as the garlic component the last time I sauteed swiss chard. Deelish.