What Is the Difference Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic?

Decide Which One Fits Your Needs

Garlic on a market stall
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You can choose from two general types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Each has its own strengths, and each is more suited to certain culinary situations than others. Discover the differences between these two types of garlic.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon), as their name implies, are generally hardier than softneck varieties. Hardneck varieties are the best option for Northern gardeners.

They are also the best choice if you want to enjoy garlic scapes in early summer: hardnecks are the only type that sends up a strong central stalk in spring. Hardneck varieties tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but they also are usually a bit larger.

Within the hardneck family, there are nine sub-types: purple stripe, marbled purple stripe, Asiatic, glazed purple stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, turban, rocambole and porcelain. These all fall into three main types of hardneck garlic: purple stripe, rocambole and porcelain. Rocambole is tan or brownish, with as many as 12 cloves per bulb. Porcelain is satiny white, hence the name, and about four cloves per bulb. Purple stripe (obviously) can't be missed; its name says it all. The purple stripe and rocambole types are the hardiest, best for gardeners who live in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Gardeners who live in mild climates should have good luck with porcelain varieties.

Hardnecks have more complex flavors than softneck varieties, with subtle flavors that reflect where they were grown.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. sativum) are the best ones to grow if you live in a milder climate. They don't form scapes and generally form several small cloves per bulb.

They mature more quickly than hardneck varieties. Softneck varieties tend to store better than hardneck varieties, so if you are looking for long-term storage, this type is the one to choose. Softneck types include blanco Piacenza, California early and late whites, Corsican red, Inchelium red, silver rose, silver white and French red.

If you want to grow the kind of garlic you find in the grocery, then you want softnecks. They are generally stocked in stores because of their long shelf life and relatively mild flavor that is right for most recipes. 

How to Store Garlic

Once you've harvested your garlic, you need to store it properly. It is generally best to keep the head whole if you want it to stay fresh for a few months, as it will last a little more than a week if you break it apart. Garlic likes to be in the dark and as dry as possible with good air circulation. A good idea is to store it in a wire mesh basket or paper bag inside the pantry. Do not put garlic in the refrigerator; it will sprout and become bitter.