We always hear kitchen and food terms thrown around, and some of them leave us entirely confused. One example is when we listen to chefs and friends talking about hardneck vs softneck garlic.
We all know what garlic is and understand the amazing ways it transforms a recipe’s flavor. We don’t know why there are only two types and the real difference between hardneck and softneck garlic. There must be a reason people plant each of these garlic varieties, but how are you supposed to know the difference if no one is talking about it?
Growing hardneck vs softneck garlic can’t be all that different, right? What gives each of these individual cloves their signature garlic flavor? Allow us to walk you through the key components of both hardneck garlic and softneck types.
Why in the world does garlic have a “neck” at all? As silly as it sounds, this term refers to the flower stalk that grows up from the garlic bulb.
Hardneck varieties have a flowering stem that begins sprouting from the center of the bulb and then turns hard when it matures.
Softneck garlic varieties have stalks that have leaves rather than a central flowering stalk. This absence leaves the area soft and flexible as it ages.
If you want to plant garlic from a grocery store, then softneck garlic is the way to go. The local farmers market is more likely to have hardneck varieties so that you can cook with several different cultivars and see which one you like best.
The Difference between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic
The only way to fully understand hardneck vs softneck garlic is to talk about their subspecies separately. Garlic cloves might seem like they would all taste the same, but there are many differences between the two types.
Hardneck garlic varieties are also named Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon. They typically have more hardiness than their softneck counterparts.
Northern growers plant garlic of these varieties because they withstand extreme temperatures. They usually form fewer bulbils, but the garlic cloves are a lot larger.
There are nine subspecies of hardneck garlic. Some of the most popular are Asiatic, Turban, Rocambole, and Glazed Purple Stripe. Of the nine subspecies, there are three categories: Purple Stripe, Rocambole, and Porcelain.
Porcelain is satin white with about four cloves per bulb, Rocambole is tan with at least 12 cloves per bulb, and Purple Stripes have a purple stripe on them.
One significant difference you may notice when growing hardneck vs softneck is that hardneck garlic is one of the only types of garlic that produces garlic scapes.
Scapes are the edible stalks that grow from the bulb. On top of the scapes is the umbel, the edible flower that sits on top.
Softneck garlic is called Allium sativum var. sativum. Growing garlic of this type is most successful when you live in mild climates. This garlic does not form scapes and has fewer cloves per bulb.
These types also mature faster than other kinds of garlic and are better for storing long term. Some of the most popular softneck varieties include Blanco Piacenza, California white, Silver Rose, and French Red.
Only one type of garlic is considered both hardneck and softneck. Elephant garlic is unique because of its extremely large cloves and mild flavor.
Flavors of Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic
Growing hardneck vs softneck garlic is only enticing if you know how each kind tastes. While each species has a different number of cloves, they produce varying flavors that complement foods in interesting ways.
Overall, hardneck garlic has more complex flavors. A lot of the species vary. Some are musky, while others taste hotter and spicier. Softneck tends to be milder, and most taste similar to one another.
Hardneck Garlic Features
We have talked about the garlic varieties of each type. However, there are many other features that these cloves have to offer. Hardneck garlic is usually easier to peel.
They have more flavor than the softer kinds, and even though there are fewer cloves in every head, they are generally larger overall. These types do not store well. They deteriorate and shrivel after only four to six months after harvest.
Softneck Garlic Features
Softneck isn’t as hardy as hardneck when in the ground, but they fare better after being harvested. Their heads have a shelf life of nine to 12 months in good storage conditions.
Because of their lack of a flowering stalk, their cloves are buttery, and their stems are soft enough for braiding.
Growing Hardneck vs Softneck Garlic
Now that you know some useful information about each kind of garlic, we bet you are excited to start planting them. Regardless of the type that you choose, growing garlic all requires the same technique, whether you grow your own garlic in pots or the ground.
Take an entire head of garlic and separate the clothes inside. Leave their papery skin intact. Find the largest cloves and plant them in your garden so that the pointy end is up. Make sure they are six inches apart and three inches under the soil.
After you plant the garlic cloves, mulch the entire bed with a couple of inches of straw or shredded leaves. The mulch conserves moisture while also working as a fertilizer. Growing garlic is possible in either a raised bed or a traditional garden bed.
Once the bed has mulch, water the entire area so that it is damp. Ensure that the plants have full sun so that they are ready to harvest within a couple of months.
Harvesting is also the same between the two types of garlic. When your plants turn a little yellow, pull the garlic heads out of the ground and hang the garlic plants upside down in a cool but well-ventilated area to cure for two weeks.
Once cured, cut the stocks off the hardneck types and braid the softneck types, and keep them in the same location for long-term storage. Storing garlic cloves the right way ensures you have garlic when you need it for cooking.
There are several ways to preserve fresh garlic. Choose from the freezer, fridge, drying, or storing in olive oil, or pick a few methods to try for taste variety. Freeze chopped garlic to have it ready for a recipe. Many times, it doesn’t even need thawing.
Know that you can learn the way to grow garlic inside but you won’t get any cloves. Indoor garlic is best for garlic greens. They make a tasty addition to many recipes.
Cooking with Garlic
To embrace both hardneck vs softneck garlic, here is a recipe that uses another member of the garlic family. Artichokes are a cousin to softneck garlic, and what better way to celebrate them than to make garlicky spinach artichoke dip from scratch?
Heat your oven to 350°F and spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. Use a large mixing bowl to mix the cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, mayo, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Gently fold in the artichokes and the spinach.
Transfer the dip to the baking dish and cook it for 20 minutes until warm and melting. Serve the dish with chips, crackers, or bread.
It’s possible to use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic in this recipe and others. Know that garlic powder vs garlic salt is an important consideration if you are on a low-sodium diet. Plain garlic is better for you.
Garlic is an invaluable ingredient for those who enjoy cooking. It adds so much extra flavor to a recipe, and can it be the difference between a meal you make for the rest of your life and one that you throw out and never look at again.
Now that you understand hardneck vs softneck garlic, it’s time to put your new knowledge to use and start experimenting with the new garlic species you’ve learned about.
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