What are Garlic Scapes?

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2015

What are garlic scapes, and what is the best way to use them in cooking?

Garlic scapes—slim, serpentine flower stems—grow from the tops of hardneck garlic. Farmers have long known that removing them encourages the plant to direct its energy toward growing a plump underground bulb, but only recently has this agricultural byproduct begun to find its way to farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture boxes, usually in late spring.

Our tasters found that raw garlic scapes have an assertive garlic flavor that’s less fiery and more grassy than that of raw cloves. Because garlic scapes have a tough and fibrous texture, we found that they worked best minced or pureed for raw applications. Pureed with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts, they produced a simple yet potent pesto.

When the scapes were cooked, tasters noted that the garlic flavor became more muted and sweet—more like roasted garlic than raw—and the texture was impressively dense and meaty. For the simplest preparation, we tossed the scapes with oil, salt, and pepper and cooked them on the grill over medium-high heat until they were softened and lightly charred, about 15 minutes. We also found that they worked very well when substituted for the green beans in a spicy stir-fry, as their mellow garlic flavor complemented the heat.

Garlic scapes are very hardy; we found that they can be refrigerated in a zipper-lock bag, left slightly open, for up to three weeks. The stem ends and the flower pods can be quite fibrous even when cooked, so we recommend trimming them before use.

SCAPE PLAN: Use garlic scapes in pestos and stir-fries for a grassy garlic flavor.