What’s The Difference Between Hardneck Garlic And Softneck Garlic?

There are approximately 600 varieties of garlic in the world, and they are divided into two primary categories: hardneck and softneck.

One of the most common question I see beginner gardeners as is how to tell the difference between a hardneck and softneck garlic?

Hardneck garlic is the closest to natural garlic, while softneck garlic has been bred to handle commercial production. Hardneck garlic produces a thick flower stalk, called a scape, which leaves behind a tough papery stalk in the mature bulb. Softneck garlic does not have a flower stalk, and it has a much longer shelf life, making it the primary choice for commercial growers.

Hardneck garlic tends to have a superior flavor, larger cloves, and a greater cold tolerance than softneck garlic.

However, softneck garlic is more popular because it has a longer shelf life and it holds up to mechanical planting.

So, which one should you plant?

That depends on your culinary preferences and growing conditions. Of course, one of the best parts of growing garlic is that it takes up very little space, so you can grow as many different varieties as you like.

What is Garlic?

Garlic has been a recognized health food and potent seasoning for millennia. Although experts haven’t been able to narrow down exactly what makes garlic so beneficial for your health, they know there may be as many as 40 different chemical compounds that can improve heart, digestive, and respiratory function.

Garlic is in the Lilliacea, or lily, family. It is a monocot, meaning it has one seedling leaf and grows similar to grass. Garlic’s closest relatives are onions, shallots, leeks, and chives.

Garlic is a bulb formed by multiple, individual cloves. Cloves can be broken off from the bulb and planted, and they will form new bulbs after 6-7 months.

The major difference between hardneck and softneck varieties is how the cloves are arranged in the bulb. Although there are clear distinctions in bulb formation, both types of garlic can be used interchangeably in recipes. Some may have a stronger flavor than others, but the differences are minimal.

Know The Difference Between Hardneck And Softneck Garlic?

Know The Difference Between Hardneck And Softneck Garlic?

While both hardneck and softneck look alike and have a lot of the same growth requirements and habits, they are different plants with distinct characteristics and needs.

Nonetheless, I wanted to go over the differences and similarities of hardneck vs softneck garlic to help you to get an idea which type is best for you.

Hardneck Vs. Softneck Garlic: Flavor

Hardneck garlic is the less common form of the garlic plant, although it generally has a superior flavor. These garlic varieties are known for their deep garlicky flavor, but they are less common in grocery stores because they don’t store well.

Many hardneck garlic varieties have an earthy, complex flavor profile and large cloves, which makes them perfect for roasting or eating raw.

There are only a few dozen varieties of softneck garlic, but they are much more common because they are easy to grow. Softneck garlic has a less pronounced garlic flavor, but they are easier to ship and store, so they have a more familiar flavor.

Hardneck Vs. Softneck Garlic: Growth Habit

Hardneck garlic is the ancestor of softneck garlic. While hardnecks have retained the flowering structure, or scape, this quality has been bred out of the more consumer-friendly softneck garlics.

The scape is a flowering stalk that curls around and produces a flower in mid to late May, depending on the climate zone. Eventually, the flower will form small bulbils. These bulbils contain small, viable seeds that will grow into mature garlic bulbs in 3-4 years.

Scapes are thick and fibrous, which is why these types of garlic are named hardneck.

Softneck garlic varieties descended from hardneck varieties. Over time, selective breeding developed a garlic strain that was lacking a scape, which resulted in more cloves and easier braiding.

The cloves in a softneck garlic bulb are arranged in layers. The cloves may be a variety of sizes, and they are typically asymmetrical and difficult to peel.

Hardneck Vs. Softneck Garlic: Growing Conditions

Typically, hardneck garlic is best for cold climates and harsh winter growing conditions. Although most varieties will do well throughout a majority of the United States, they must have a period of cold weather, or vernalization, in order to form cloves.

This can be replicated by placing cloves in the fridge for a few weeks before planting if you live in an especially warm climate.

The flavor and size of the bulb is directly related to the quality of the growing conditions. Although hardneck garlic can be grown in warmer areas, the yield and flavor will suffer compared to cooler growing conditions.

Softneck garlic grows best in southern climates in rich, well-drained soils. Although there are some varieties that can tolerate cold winters, most varieties will suffer in freezing temperatures.

Aside from hardnecks growing better up North and softnecks growing better down South, the soil and water requirements for these two types of garlic are identical.

Hardneck Vs. Softneck Garlic: Groupings

Garlic is divided into two subspecies: hardneck, or ophioscorodon, and softneck, or sativum.

Each subspecies is divided into groupings with similar characteristics. Because hardneck garlic is the predecessor of softneck garlic, there are many more types with richer flavors and color variations.

Hardneck Garlic

There are 3 major divisions of hardneck garlic:

  • Rocambole
  • Porcelain
  • Purple Stripe

Rocambole Garlic

Rocambole Garlic

This is the most sought-after, flavorful type of garlic, according to chefs and specialty growers. Rocambole is extremely cold tolerant, and must have a period of cool weather in order to mature properly.

Rocambole plant profile

Hardiness zones 2-9

Plant 2 weeks before first frost

Prefers slightly acidic soil

Produces 8-12 cloves

Extremely cold tolerant

Easy to peel

Difficult to grow

Poor shelf life (4-6 months)

Although rocambole garlic can tolerate warmer climate zones, it performs best in the northern 1/3rd of the United States.

Porcelain Garlic

Porcelain Garlic

This hardneck can tolerate warmer climates better than rocambole garlic, which makes it a popular option for southern climate zones. Porcelain garlic has large, easy-to-peel cloves with a pleasant, strong flavor.

Porcelain plant profile:

Hardiness zones 2-9

Plant 2 weeks before first frost

Prefers slightly acidic soil

Produces 2-7 cloves

Cold tolerant

Very easy to peel

Easy to grow

Good shelf life (7-9 months)

Most varieties of porcelain garlic have a slightly shimmery appearance, which has contributed to their popularity in the horticulture and culinary worlds.

Purple Stripe Garlic

Purple Stripe Garlic

This garlic has the mildest flavor of the hardnecks, but what it lacks in heat it makes up for in coloration. Purple stripe garlics have beautiful, variegated cloves, often with an iridescent, papery skin.

Purple stripe plant profile:

Hardiness zones 2-9

Plant 2 weeks before first frost

Prefers slightly acidic soil

Produces 6-12 cloves

Cold tolerant

Somewhat easy to peel

Very easy to grow

Moderate shelf life (5-7 months)

Purple stripe garlic is considered the parent plant of all modern garlic varieties, and chefs claim it has a somewhat raw, gamey, uncultured flavor; but in a good way.

Hardneck Garlic Types

Although these are the three most popular and sought-after types of hardneck garlics, there are a few honorable mentions:

Marbled Purple Stripes

These garlics are somewhere between Porcelains and Purple Stripes. The cloves have a rich purple wrapping, and the meat is slightly brown. Although these garlic varieties grow well throughout the United States, they perform best in colder climates with low winter temperatures.

Glazed Purple Stripes

This Unique Garlic Category Is Similar To Purple Stripes And Marbled Purple Stripes. The Wrappers On Glazed Purple Stripes Have A Frosted, Metallic Sheen With Undertones Of Gold And Silver. This Type Of Garlic Is Gaining Popularity Among Chefs For Its Smooth, Even Heat And Rich, Complex Flavor.

Asiatics

These garlics are closest to Glazed Purple Stripes in appearance, but they mature much faster and have a shorter shelf life. Asiatics are classified as weakly bolting, which means they may or may not produce a scape. Asiatic garlics have a strong, hot garlicky flavor.

Turbans

Turbans Mature Sooner Than Any Other Hardneck Variety. These Garlics Have A Short, Squat Flower Head And Short, Flat Bulbs, Which Is Where The Name Turban Comes From. The Cloves Are Wrapped In A Striped Purple Paper, And The Meat Is A Light Pink/Brown Color. Turbans Have A Very Short Shelf Life.

Creoles

Creoles are an anomaly in the hardneck garlics. They grow best in the deep south of the United States, suffer in cold climates, and have an exceptional shelf life. Their flavor has a deep, complex, nutty undertone with a bite. The most well-known Creole garlic is the coveted French Pink garlic, which is encased in a bright pink paper wrapper.

Softneck Garlic

There are 2 popular types of softneck garlic:

  • Artichoke
  • Silverskin

Artichoke Garlic

Artichoke Garlic

Artichoke garlic tolerates a wide range of growing conditions, which makes it a popular choice for home gardeners. Artichoke cloves tend to be larger than silverskin cloves, and some varieties have a purple coloration.

Artichoke garlic plant profile:

Hardiness zones 4-10

Plant 4-6 weeks before first freeze

Prefers slightly acidic soil

Produces 6-25 cloves

Heat tolerant

Somewhat easy to peel

Very easy to grow

Very good shelf life (8-10 months)

Artichoke garlic is considered the easiest, most productive type of garlic you can grow.

Silverskin Garlic

Silverskin Garlic

Although silverskin garlic is less flavorful than most hardnecks, they still have a wonderful garlicky flavor.

Silverskin garlic plant profile:

Hardiness zones 4-10

Plant 4-6 weeks before first freeze

Prefers slightly acidic soil

Produces 8-40 cloves

Heat tolerant

Somewhat easy to peel

Easy to grow

Extremely good shelf life (9-12 months)

Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic: Popular Varieties

There are at least 600 varieties of garlic, and popularity is entirely dependent on the growing conditions and flavor preferences of the growers. However, some varieties are well-known due to their superior flavor, ease of growing, unique colors, and extended shelf life.

Hardneck garlics are valued for their superior flavor profile and consistent size, but due to their poor shelf life, they are difficult to find in grocery stores.

Luckily, there are 500+ hardneck garlic varieties in the world, so you can grow a large collection of gourmet garlics in your backyard.

Popular Rocambole Garlic Varieties

Rocambole is the most flavorful and sought-after garlic in the culinary world. Most rocambole varieties have a raw heat, but a sweet, smooth flavor when cooked or roasted. They are easy to peel and the cloves are large and uniform, which make them a great candidate for roasting.

French

This popular Rocambole garlic has a pronounced buttery flavor and a smooth, even heat. Like most Rocamboles, this variety has a short shelf life, although some growers report cloves lasting as long as 8 months under ideal conditions.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 6-11

Bulbils: 5-25

Maturity: Early-Mid Season

Shelf Life 4-5 Months

German Red

This is another popular Rocambole garlic due to how easy it is to grow and its spicy, rich flavor. Growers report that this variety produces large, juicy cloves that have an excellent raw flavor.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 8-12

Bulbils: 5-25

Maturity: Mid Season

Shelf Life: 5-6 Months

Spicy Korean Red

This variety has an upfront hot, spicy zip that mellows after cooking into a smooth, earthy flavor. This garlic prefers similar growing conditions to German Red, but it may mature a little earlier.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 9-12

Bulbils: 5-25

Maturity: Early-Mid Season

Shelf Life: 5-6 Months

Popular Porcelain Garlic Varieties

Porcelain garlic can tolerate warmer growing conditions than Rocambole, which makes it a popular option for gardeners in the southern United States. It has an excellent flavor, consistent with other hardneck garlics, and the cloves are large and easy to peel.

Music

This Porcelain garlic is extremely vigorous, hardy, and tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. The bulbs and cloves of this garlic are bigger than almost any other garlic variety, and they have a rich, pungent garlicky flavor.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 4-5

Bulbils: 100+

Maturity: Mid Season

Shelf Life: 8-9 Months

Georgian Crystal

This garlic produces very large bulbs that can weigh up to 1/3rd of a pound. The flavor is mellow and pure, which makes it an excellent general-purpose garlic.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 4-6

Bulbils: 100+

Maturity: Mid Season

Shelf Life: 7-8 Months

Rosewood

This rare garlic variety is spicy. Rosewood garlic is a vigorous plant, but it will need some coddling in order to produce a seed head.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 4-6

Bulbils: 100+

Maturity: Late Season

Shelf Life: 7-9 Months

Popular Purple Stripe Garlic Varieties

Purple Stripe garlics are considered the origin plants for modern garlic. They tend to have a raw, earthy, uncultured flavor, but they also have beautiful, colorful skins.

Chesnok Red

This variety has a sweet, oniony flavor that is perfect for baked dishes. The papery skin layers are a deep, rich purple color, making this variety an extremely attractive specimen.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 8-20

Bulbils: ~100

Maturity: Late Season

Shelf Life: 5-6 Months

Persian Star

This variety has a delicate, mild flavor that works well in raw dishes or roasted. The long points on the cloves resemble a star, which is what earned this variety its name.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 9-12

Bulbils: ~100

Maturity: Late Season

Shelf Life: 5-6 Months

Tibetan

This variety has a smooth heat that adds a traditional garlic flavor to any dish. Tibetan is another good variety to use as an all-purpose garlic seasoning.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 8-12

Bulbils: ~100

Maturity: Late Season

Shelf Life: 5-6 Months

Softneck garlics are more popular in grocery stores because they store well and they handle mechanical planting and harvesting.

Softnecks don’t have scapes, and the leaves are more flexible than their hardneck ancestors, so these varieties work well for gardeners who want to braid the bulbs after they’ve cured.

In general, softneck garlics grow best in warm climates, and they don’t tolerate extremely cold winters.

Popular Artichoke Garlic Varieties

Artichoke garlic is the less-common type of garlic in the softneck category. Although it has an extraordinary flavor and coloration, it doesn’t handle mechanical planting and harvesting as well as Silverskin garlic, so it is not as common in grocery stores.

Italian

This variety is hot. Italian garlic tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, and it is fairly cold-tolerant for a softneck variety. Be careful in clay soils to avoid overwatering.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 10-14

Bulbils: N/A

Maturity: Early-Mid Season

Shelf Life: 8-10 Months

Sicilian

This Italian native is excellent for pasta and pizza sauces. It has a hot, tangy flavor when raw, but it cooks down to a smooth, mild heat. This variety will occasionally produce neck bulbils or a scape.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 8-10

Bulbils: Rarely

Maturity: Early-Mid Season

Shelf Life: 8-10 Months

Popular Silverskin Garlic Varieties

Silverskin garlic is the most common commercially-available type of garlic. The skin coverings are very tight, which helps protect the bulbs from bruising and extends the shelf life up to one year.

Silverskin garlic tolerates a wide variety of growing conditions, but that doesn’t mean it performs equally in all soil profiles or climates. Use compost each fall before planting and keep plants watered but not wet to enjoy large bulbs with superior flavor.

California Early

This is the most common commercial  garlic variety. California Early is in grocery stores across the United States due to its wide range of soil and climate tolerances. California Early is an early-maturing variety, so it can also be planted in the spring in some climates for a fall harvest.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 6-12

Bulbils: N/A

Maturity: Early-Mid Season

Shelf Life: 10-12 Months

California Late

This is the second-most common commercial garlic variety. Like California Early, the California Late variety tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. The only notable difference between California Early and California Late is that California Late is a late-maturing variety.

Plant Profile:

Cloves: 6-12

Bulbils: N/A

Maturity: Mid-Late Season

Shelf Life: 10-12 Months

Although there’s a noticeable physical difference between hardneck and softneck garlic, the main difference comes down to flavor and aesthetics. Most garlic varieties will grow well in most parts of the country, so the type of garlic you choose to grow will depend on the intended culinary uses.

Whatever garlic you decide to plant, try to find a reputable, local grower to make sure the bulbs are disease-free and adapted to your climate.

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