As a kid, I thought of garlic as just that—garlic, a relative of the onion. Once I grew more interested in gardening and farming because of my grandparents, I came to learn that there are actually 2 main types of garlic that you can grow! Know how to differentiate the two?
Softneck garlic differs from hardneck garlic in terms of 1) appearance, 2) shelf life, 3) flavor profile, and 4) ideal growing conditions. However, they are similar when it comes to their 1) place of origin, 2) propagation method, 3) common uses, 4) nutritional value, and 5) toxicity to humans and animals.
Despite the differences between hardneck and softneck garlic, they still share a number of similarities that are hard to simply disregard. So whether you want a stronger taste or a milder and sweeter flavor, you can enjoy garlic’s benefits all the same. Keep reading!
Even though hardneck and softneck garlic closely resemble each other, hardneck garlic can be differentiated through its 1) cluster of flowers, 2) hard-stemmed flower stalk, 3) dark green linear leaves, and 4) bulbs containing fever large cloves.
If you are a garlic geek like myself, you might know that there are 600+ mind-blowing garlic cultivars in existence. However, to make things simple, there are only 2 main classifications to categorize them all.
Despite looking the same at a quick glance, home gardeners may actually be able to tell the 2 types of garlic apart quite easily based on their flowers, stems, leaves, and bulbs.
The most common types of hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. Ophoscorodon) are
- Asiatic or Turban
- Purple Stripe
Meanwhile, the main types of softneck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) are
I will be mentioning this throughout the article to help you visualize the differences between them so keep your eyes peeled! (Get it?)
When allowed to flower, hardneck garlic will produce a cluster of numerous small flowers with colors varying from white and pink to violet. Softneck garlic rarely flowers under normal conditions.
In spring, it’s normal to see hardneck garlic with 10–40 tiny star-like flowers bloom in an umbel when the scape has not been trimmed off the plant.
Find out the consequences of letting scapes mature in our article on how to harvest garlic!
Similar to their wild counterparts, hardneck types will each grow a single umbel of delicate little 6-petaled flowers on their stalks. These grow out of the bulbils or aerial cloves of garlic.
White, pink, and violet garlic flowers all make a great addition to rustic flower arrangements with their unique look.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that these flowers are sterile. Garlic flowers are unable to produce any true seeds.
By contrast, softneck garlic cultivars and varieties generally don’t produce any flower under normal circumstances.
Softneck garlics such as Silverskins will only form flowers after they’re exposed to stress factors such as drought or freezing winter weather.
Hardneck garlic varieties produce a hollow flowering central stalk that grows firmer as they mature, whereas softneck types typically only develop a pliable leafy sheath.
Early in spring, hardneck garlic varieties will start putting out a hollow stem in the center. This is where they grow flowers from.
Their stems are pretty firm and hollow to support such growth—if allowed to develop on the garlic. Rocambole garlics, in particular, are known for their eye-catching curled stems.
Stems of hardneck garlic varieties can reach 2–3 feet (60–90 cm) in height before forming at least 1 coil, ending with a pointed spathe containing the bulbils and flowers.
After harvest, you’ll see that it starts from within the bulb. But it’s quite hard and rigid even before it dries.
By comparison, as I’ve already mentioned just moments ago, softneck garlic varieties don’t flower at all. Meaning, they also typically don’t grow any flowering stem or scape.
Instead, the stems of softneck garlics are typically tender—just sheaths of their leaves forming what looks like a stalk at the center similar to onion tops.
This is why softneck garlic is easier to braid than hardneck garlic, whether before or after drying and curing.
Silverskin and Artichoke garlic types would only really grow firm scapes once they’re incredibly stressed. But don’t worry, plants started from their cloves will grow soft necks in their maturity as long as conditions are favorable for their optimal development.
Both hardneck and softneck garlic have about 6–9 6-inch long leaves per plant, but hardneck varieties generally have darker green leaves with shades of blue and gray.
In terms of leaf appearance, hardneck and softneck are almost identical—almost.
Generally, garlic leaves are long and linear, growing alternately along the sheath of the plant. They are mostly green in color as well.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of differences between these garlic variety types!
Hardneck garlic, for instance, has a deeper silvery green color that’s mixed with other hues. Rocamble garlics even have a blue tint to them.
Flat softneck Silverskin garlic leaves, in comparison, are typically on the paler side of the color wheel. But Artichoke-type garlics may have markedly wider and darker-colored leaves
Each hardneck garlic bulb usually contains 4–12 large cloves growing around a thick flower stem, with thick loose white and/or violet skin. Conversely, softneck garlic varieties have more cloves, commonly 8–40 of varying sizes per bulb, and thinner papery white or pinkish skin.
Heads of hardneck garlics tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but they are most often a bit larger. These are also the most similar to wild garlic.
Then again, letting the scapes on hardneck garlic plants grow and flower can reduce the final size of the bulbs during harvest by almost half!
Other than that, the primarily white skin of hardneck garlic cultivars and varieties is pretty loose despite being pretty thick. As such, they’re quite easy to peel them.
Softneck garlics, on the other hand, grow more cloves more tightly. They could form about 3–5 layers of cloves per bulb, based on the variety. Clove size can also greatly vary.
Inchelium Red softneck garlic bulbs, for example, can have a total of 22 enormous 3-inch bulbs divided into up to 5 layers. Others can have smaller cloves. Some don’t have consistently sized cloves.
The main thing I dislike about softneck garlic is how difficult it is to peel them properly since its skin pretty much adheres to its cloves.
2. Shelf Life
Softneck garlic varieties can last for 9–12 months while hardneck garlic varieties generally only last for 5–8 months at cool storage temperatures around 32°F or 0°C.
I personally find the fact that softneck garlic stores better for longer intriguing considering the fact that it takes them less time to fully form mature bulbs.
But if I had to guess, I reckon it’s due to how tightly the skin of softneck garlic wraps each clove, securing it as much as possible for protection against pests and diseases.
Having said that, how you go about harvesting hardneck and softneck garlic doesn’t really differ all that much. Just carefully dig them out of the ground.
Curious to learn more? Check our article on harvesting garlic on time!
After that—drying, curing, and so on—it’s best to keep them in a dark, dry, and cool place like your pantry. This will help extend its shelf life for as long as possible.
Warmer temps above 68°F or 20°C can shorten garlic’s shelf life to only 1–2 months, regardless of whether they’re hardneck or softneck.
Just keep in mind that hardneck garlic bulbs are likely to rot faster than softneck varieties, so use them up first. The only exemption to this is Rocambles which peel pretty easily.
Even then, some hardneck garlic last longer than others. Rocambole garlic can stay good for consumption for up to 7–8 months while other types might only store for 5–6 months.
While hardneck garlic generally has a more sharp and complex flavor profile with faint differences between varieties, softneck garlics may be very mild-tasting or very hot.
Although there is no consensus on what the strongest-tasting garlic is, many home cooks and professional chefs would normally mention hardneck garlic types.
These are more flavorsome than softneck garlic cultivars and varieties. Personally, I love using them for most of my savory dishes, including a good garlic bread!
Hardneck garlic varieties include:
- Ajo Rojo
- Asian Tempest or Seoul Sister
- Brown Tempest
- Chesnok Red or Shvelisi
- Chinese Stripe
- Creole Red
- Danube Rose
- Georgian Crystal
- Georgian Fire
- German Extra Hardy
- German Porcelain
- German Red
- German White
- Giant Siberian
- Italian Purple
- Killarney Red
- Korean Mountain
- Korean Red
- Krasnodar Red
- Krasnodar White
- Merrifield Rocambole
- Northern White
- Persian Star
- Polish White
- Purple Glazer
- Pyong Vang
- Red Grain
- Red Janice
- Red Rezan
- Romanian Red
- Russian Red
- Sandpoint Rocambole
- Skuri #1
- Spanish Roja
By contrast, softneck garlics can either taste super mild or they may be incredibly spicy. At the same time though, these varieties typically have a hint of sweetness to them.
Heck, you could even incorporate softneck garlic into desserts—as weird as that may sound. In fact, there’s a garlic pudding in India called Lehsun Ki Kheer or Lahsun Ki Kheer.
Softneck garlic varieties include:
- Acropolis Greek
- Broadleaf Czech
- California Early
- California Late
- California Select
- California White
- Chet’s Italian
- Chinese Pink
- Corsican Red
- Early Red Italian
- French Red
- Idaho Silver
- Inchelium Red or Inchelium
- Italian Late
- Kettle River Giant
- Lorz Italian
- Mild French
- New York White
- Nootka Rose
- Oregon Blue
- Red Toch or Tochliavri
- Rojodel Pais Baza
- Rose du Var
- S&H Silver
- Shantung Purple
- Sicilian Artichoke
- Silver Rose
- Silver White
- St. Helens Red
- Western Rose
4. Growing Conditions
The type of garlic that grows best in hot climates in southern states is softneck garlic. Meanwhile, hardneck garlic is best grown in cold climates in northern states.
Here’s the deal, garlic is widely considered to be hardy to zones 4–9. But how fast and well your garlic will grow can differ vastly depending on where you live exactly.
More importantly, certain garlic varieties simply prefer specific growing conditions for optimal development. Otherwise, your garlic bulbs might look and taste different.
To be more specific, hardneck garlics—by and large—reach their prime in cold areas up north such as Minnesota. You could also plant softneck garlics but they won’t do as well.
Hardneck garlic bulbs require about 2 months of cold temperatures at 40°F (4°C) and lower for their cloves to form and divide. This cold period is called vernalization.
Also, the growing climate can affect the flavor profile of garlic. Softneck garlic varieties develop a sharper and hotter taste due to really cold winters.
Going down to southern states like Georgia, opt for softneck garlics for the best chances of success. These grow much better with warmer spring and summer, and milder fall and winter.
It’s also worth noting that these are less likely to bolt, so you don’t even have to remove scapes at all. So they’re great for long growing seasons. You can also grow softneck garlic varieties in zones 10–12.
Now if you live somewhere in the middle like California, it’ll be much easier for you to grow both hardneck and softneck garlic in your garden due to milder weather!
5 Similarities Between Softneck Garlic and Hardneck Garlic
Softneck and hardneck garlic both are 1) believed to have originated from Central Asia, 2) propagated by cloves, 3) used mainly for cooking, 4) rich in nutrients like calcium and phosphorus, and 5) mildly toxic when consumed.
Despite all of their differences, softneck and hardneck varieties definitely still have a couple of clear similarities. Let’s explore them all together!
1. Place of Origin
Though it’s not a hundred percent certain, garlic is widely thought to be native to somewhere in Central Asia. Others argue it’s likely Middle East.
It’s also a possibility that the softneck and hardneck garlics we now know came from the wild species (Allium longiscuspis) has long existed in both regions around the same time.
From there, it’s quite clear how readily it could have spread to Europe and the rest of Asia over the centuries from historic trades. So it has long been naturalized in various regions around the globe.
2. Propagation Method
Even if some garlic species—mostly wild ones—can, in fact, reproduce sexually, meaning their seeds are still viable for propagation.
However, the same can’t be said about the hardneck and softneck varieties we commonly readily buy at markets or those that we grow at home.
Most, if not all, of the garlic that we easily find nowadays can only be propagated vegetatively using their cloves, which can simply be buried 2–3 inches deep into the soil.
Find out how to go about this in our article on growing garlic in your very own garden!
3. Common Uses
As you probably know very well, garlic is largely grown commercially and in home gardens for culinary uses. Fresh, dried, powdered—garlic is delicious in every form!
Both hardneck and softneck varieties are used to impart a lovely flavor to a variety of savory dishes and sweet treats—though the latter is much less common.
You can also infuse garlic into oil, butter, and vinegar, which are perfect for both vegetable and meat dishes. They also make a great addition to different dressings and sauces.
The less recognized use of garlic here in the West is herbal medicine. In various other cultures, garlic is commonly used to fight against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Frankly, though, not all claims about the health benefits of garlic are properly substantiated with research.
4. Nutritional Value
Some might think that it’s common sense but I think it’s still worth noting that garlic contains little to no sodium, fat, and cholesterol.
Besides that, it’s rich in various essential micro and macro nutrients including, but not limited to, protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.
|Nutrients||Garlic (100 g)|
|Total Fat (g)||0.5|
|Dietary Fiber (g)||2.1|
|Total Sugars (g)||1|
|Vitamin C (mg)||31.2|
|Vitamin B1 or Thiamin (mg)||0.2|
|Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin (mg)||0.11|
|Vitamin B3 or Niacin (mg)||0.7|
|Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid (mg)||0.596|
|Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine (mg)||1.24|
|Vitamin B12 or Folate (µg)||3|
|Vitamin A (µg)||0|
|Vitamin D (µg)||0|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0.08|
5. Toxic Principle
Garlic contains natural compounds like diallyl disulfide and N-propyl disulfide in their fruits, flowers, leaves, and roots.
When consumed in large amounts, especially while raw, you or your pet—be it a cat, dog, or horse—can suffer from panting, vomiting, weakness, rapid heart rate, bloody pee, anemia, and contact dermatitis.
Needless to say, I don’t recommend binging on raw garlic at any time for any reason at all. Even though some share the potential benefits of eating garlic raw, much of this has yet to be proven completely true.
Is grocery store garlic hardneck or softneck?
Most garlic bulbs people find and buy from large-chain grocery stores and local farmer’s markets are softneck garlic varieties due to their considerably long shelf life. These are typically sprayed with growth inhibitors so they may be impossible to propagate. Also, elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than garlic despite the resemblance.
Which type of garlic is easier to grow?
All garlics are grown the same way, in spite of slight variations in their ideal growing conditions. While hardneck garlic is easier and best grown in the north, softneck garlic fair much better in the south. Some experts share that softneck Artichoke garlic may be the easiest and best to grow due to its quick maturation time and long shelf life.
Summary of Softneck Garlic vs Hardneck Garlic
Hardneck garlic generally can generally produce flowers on its scapes of flowering stalks if it isn’t trimmed early on. Their thin flat leaves have tints of blue and gray while their bulbs may be white, purple, or a mix of both. Such types are good for up to 8 months, taste more complex, and grow best in cold weather.
Softneck garlic usually doesn’t produce and flower stem or flower. But their leaves are long, flat, and green—from light to dark. These can last for up to 1 year, have either a very mild or distinctly hot taste, and are best cultivated with warm summers and mild winters.
- “Garlic” by n/a in the Oregon State University
- “Garlic, Allium sativum” by Susan Mahr in the University of Wisconsin – Madison Extension
- “Garlic (Allium Sativum)” by n/a in PlantVillage
- “Garlic in the Garden” by Dan Drost in the Utah State University Extension Yard and Garden
- “Garlic Production for the Gardener” by Wayne J. McLaurin in the University of Georgia Extension
- “Growing garlic in home gardens” by Marissa Schuh, Carl J. Rosen, and Cindy Tong in the University of Minnesota Extension
- “Growing Garlic in the South” by Amanda Wilkins in the N.C. Cooperative Extension
- “Garlic Production in Hawaii” by Jensen Uyeda and Kylie Tavares in the University of Hawaii and Manoa
- “Garlic Production in New Mexico” by George W. Dickerson and Stephanie Walker in the New Mexico State University
- “Garlic, raw” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in FoodData Central