What Is the Difference Between Hardneck and Softneck Garlic?

Garlic on a market stall

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You can choose from two general types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Each has its strengths, and each is better suited to some culinary uses than others. For example, only hardneck garlic produces the edible flower stem called a garlic scape—a delicacy that can be pickled or added to a range of foods for a mild peppery flavor.

About Hard and Softeneck Garlic

The "neck" in the names refers to the stalk that grows upward from the garlic bulb. Hardnecks have a stalk that stems from the center of the bulb and turns rigid at maturity. Softnecks stalks are made up of leaves rather than a central stalk. Softneck leaves remain soft and flexible at maturity. 

In general, hardnecks have more complex flavors than softneck varieties, with subtle flavors that reflect where they were grown. The strength and character of the flavors vary, from mild purple stripes to musky porcelains to hot and spicy rocamboles.

If you want to grow the kind of garlic you find in the grocery store, 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. 

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 tend to be 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
  • 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. They are the 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.

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 contain several small cloves per bulb. They mature more quickly than hardneck varieties. Softneck varieties tend to store better than hardneck, 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
  • French red

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. If you break it apart it will last a little more than a week. 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, as this causes it to sprout and become bitter.