How Green Is Your Garlic?

white-chinese-garlic-bulbsImported garlic looks beautiful, but locally grown is  healthier.

Contaminated garlic from China  was a scandal in the late 1990s and up till 2009. Fueled by anger over tainted pet food, toothpaste, and medicines from China, health-conscious consumers were outraged at the huge quantities of cheap Chinese garlic that were being “dumped” – sold for less than production costs – into US, European, and Australian/New Zealand markets. Garlic lovers were worried about the cloud of health issues around the beloved bulb. And garlic farmers took a major economic blow.

Are those issues still active? Talk has died down. Maybe it’s because China’s garlic exports slowed down significantly in the last year. This is due to increased domestic garlic consumption, which rocketed with the appearance of swine flu. The Chinese believe garlic’s anti-viral properties are strong enough to prevent the virus.

There’s less publicity about the hazards of Chinese garlic from local growers. No recent outcry in the press. But there’s been no proof that conditions have improved, either.

The problems with Chinese garlic

Charges against Chinese garlic included:

  • Use of sewage to fertilize the soil in garlic farms;
  • Presence of nematodes, fungus, and other agricultural pests in the bulbs, which contaminate soil where cloves taken from them are planted, as in home gardens. Importing countries therefore mandated…
  • Fumigation with the toxic, ozone-depleting pesticide, methyl bromide, upon arrival at the importing country;
  • The use of chlorine to bleach the bulbs an attractive white color;
  • Use of chemicals to prevent the vegetable from sprouting during the months of travel from China to the importing country.
  • American garlic farmers argued that their prices were high compared to the Chinese because they paid fair wages and gave workers benefits, while Chinese producers have a dependable source of cheap labor too ignorant to demand basic rights.

Our question is, has any of that changed? The fat, white bulbs with all the stringy roots cut away, packaged in  plastic mesh bags, are still in markets everywhere. Before you reach for that convenient little bundle, ask yourself if you’re easy in mind, eating and serving that garlic. Isn’t it worth the time to buy locally grown?

Right now is fresh garlic season in the Middle East, soon in colder climates too. We recently bought fresh, purple-striped garlic at NIS6. per kilo – $1.60 for 2.2 lbs. At that price, it wasn’t hard to buy 10 kgs of the pungent stuff, which should last our family of busy cooks for almost the whole next year. Apart from anything else, local garlic is juicy and tastes as it should: fresh.

You can hang the bulbs up to dry in loose bunches, or buy some already braided and ready to hang. If you prefer, cut the mild-tasting stalks off and eat them as greens, leaving the bulbs to dry separately.

How to eat the greens? Strip off the tough, dirty outer leaves and wash the stalks well. Then you can:

  • Chop them into finger lengths and stir-fry them
  • Stew them with carrots and potatoes
  • Drop them into your next pot of soup
  • Roll them in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill them
  • Blend them with toasted almonds, salt, pepper and olive oil for a seasonal pesto

braiding-fresh-garlicA vendor braids fresh, local garlic at an Israeli open market.

Photo by Miriam Kresh.

Photo of white garlic bulbs by NoodleSnacks, via WikiMedia.

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10 thoughts on “How Green Is Your Garlic?”

  1. Lupe says:

    Reducing the total amount of cholesterol your body could recycle.

  2. Oscar Holgado says:

    I made a mistake years ago to try those big garlic, packaged neatly in long fishnet plastic tube. I used it for cooking but was disappointed when I didn’t smell that garlicky flavor – surprised upon reading the label that it was produced in China. From then on I avoided buying that type of garlic – I buy the loose bulk garlic or that produced in the USA. If you have dirt around you you can easily grow garlic.

  3. Miriam Kresh says:

    Mary,you didn’t indicate where you live, but I’d say that most farmer’s markets have fresh local garlic in the springtime. You can certainly plant garlic cloves, the little flat side down, and get a home-grown crop, but you need plenty of space. I assume you can get “seed” garlic through a seed catalogue if you can’t find local garlic.

    Green tops are a good sign – that means the garlic is viable and sprouting. Signs of local garlic as opposed to imported bleached stuff: colorful peels and some dirt at the root end.

  4. Mary Thompson says:

    I’m so glad I read this article. I saw the news one day showing China madly producing garlic en mass to import overseas…..I KNEW when I saw that something was WRONG with the garlic.
    I knew it had something to do with eliminating the powerful antiviral properties – of which there are 7 – in garlic. I KNEW that the gleeful way they were in a RUSH to get it out on the market that it was going to heal current plagues.
    So, now that I confirmed my suspicions about the Chinese/garlic connection…..Question is: PLEASE ANSWER ME AT MY EMAIL ADDRESS.
    Where can I get local garlic? Who sells it and is it possible to buy garlic seeds that are ok? Can I take a garlic clove and plant it and what signs reveal that it is a healthy non chinese garlic?
    Green tops? Is that a good sign?

  5. Daisy Girl 96 says:

    Thanks for this article – can you please do a similar article about apple juice? I’ve stopped buying it – because every brand – even major ones – now say made from apple juice concentrate from China! I’ll never have apple juice again, I guess – but wonder what they put on to their apples!

  6. Thank you, Miriam, this is indeed informative. A few months ago, I noticed suddenly that all the garlic in my local Beer Sheva grocery stores was from China. Plastics and cheap electronics somehow make sense, but fresh vegies?!? WTF! In search of locally grown garlic, my first trip was to the the veggie suk, where, to my dismay, even there the packaged garlic (this variety with Israeli logos from some Israeli vegetable growing company) was from China. I will make more of an effort now to locate locally grown.

  7. This is such good, basic information! I see those chinese garlic bulbs in the stores, and wondered about this very thing. Thank you. I'm now officially only buying locally grown garlic, and will make sure to pass this on.

  8. foodbridge says:

    thanks Miriam, for this informative post, I did not realize the white bulbs were imported from China and the implications linked to this. Besides, fresh garlic is immeasurably better, so from now on I will buy local, at least when it comes to garlic.

  9. I love fresh garlic grown locally. It’s juicy, not dry, way tastier and has a rich red tint. I do find it moulds if not aerated properly, and the garlic teeth – is that what you call them – smaller than the Chinese variety. I always choose local when I can find it, irrespective of the the price.

  10. Gili says:

    And after all that, they dare to market the too-white-Chinese-garlic under the name “Pri Artzenu” (פרי ארצנו). Hurry up to the market and get a year supply. It’s better and much cheaper.

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