Even the organic food movement —as grounded as it is in a holistic understanding of traditional farming methods, environmentalism and nutrient-rich food —is not immune to fads. Every few months, it seems someone has suddenly “discovered” the benefits of eating pea shoots, grapefruit or kale.
More often than not, these foods, which are spontaneously thrust into the national spotlight, are foods that the Boston Organics Community has been growing and eating for years.
Garlic scapes, one of our favorite early summer vegetables, seem to be enjoying a just such a Renaissance moment. While the Boston Organics Crew already loves cooking with them, we’re excited to see so many people trying garlic scapes for the very first time.
If you haven’t tried garlic scapes yet, we’re here to answer all your questions about those weird looking things in your box. If you’re already an amateur garlic scape aficionado, you can keep reading or jump to the bottom for some creative recipe ideas.
Where Do Garlic Scapes Come From?
As you probably already know, garlic bulbs grow underground, storing nutrients that are vital for the plant’s survival during the winter. In the spring, after the ground has thawed, the bulbs start to sprout.
Soft-neck garlic, the kind of garlic that is most often sold in supermarkets because of its mild flavor and hardy storage capability, has been bred to invest most of its energy into producing large, edible cloves. Soft-neck garlic doesn’t grow well in cold weather, so most New England farmers plant hard-neck garlic, a variety better suited to our climate.
Hard-neck garlic, whose edible bulbs have a sharper flavor, produces a distinctive curly green shoot as it grows, known as a scape. If left unattended, these scapes would harden into a sturdy stalk and the bud on the end would flower and begin the process of creating new garlic plants. This process diverts nutrients from the bulb, so hard-neck garlic growers have to regularly prune back the scapes if they want to harvest and sell their garlic cloves.
Most farmers might save a few scapes for their families to eat, but until recently there wasn’t much of a market for garlic growers to sell their scapes. With the increasing number of farmers’ markets and CSAs, garlic scapes have been growing in popularity, but the Boston Organics Community has been eating fresh garlic scapes from our local farm partners every summer for many years.
Are Garlic Scapes Environmentally Friendly?
Eating organic garlic scapes is a sustainable act.
New England garlic farmers have to trim the scapes whether or not they’re going to be eaten. More often than not, scapes are simply composted and turned back into organic matter, but when you buy and eat garlic scapes from food hubs like Boston Organics, you’re cutting down on food waste and helping support small farmers.
Scapes are tender and fragile, making them difficult to transport long distances, so fresh scapes are almost always locally-grown. Nonetheless, you want to make sure that any garlic scapes you buy are grown organically.
Even local farmers can use synthetic pesticides and herbicides, but buying certified organic garlic scapes ensures that you're supporting agricultural methods that we believe are better for your health and better for the environment.
Are Scapes a Vegetable, an Aromatic or an Herb?
Garlic scapes are the chameleons of the allium family. These long, curlicue stems seem like a perplexing culinary obstacle, but it’s hard to go wrong with a handful of fresh, organic garlic scapes.
If you’re ever in doubt, you can finely chop up a few scapes and use them in place of garlic cloves. Keep in mind that they lose a little bite when they’re sautéed, so if a recipe calls for two cloves of garlic you’ll want to use three or four scapes.
It’s also a safe bet to treat them like really long green beans: cut a few into edible lengths and grill them or add them to a stir fry.
One of the most popular ways to use up a whole bunch of garlic scapes is to blend them into a pesto. Pesto tends to freeze well, so this is a great way to hang on to their unique flavor even after their short growing season has ended.
Garlic scapes can also be pickled or added to soups and salads—there’s no wrong way to eat a scape.
In general, garlic scapes have a milder flavor than raw garlic, but they add an element of complexity to everything they touch. There are about a thousand ways to enjoy garlic scapes, but here are a few of our favorite recipes: