You probably never realized, but 80% of garlic sold worldwide comes from China. The U.S. alone imported 138 million pounds in 2014, and the trend seems to be growing. Now, you may think that Chinese garlic must be fine since you’ve probably been eating it, right? It’s actually heavily bleached and full of harmful pesticides! You need to be more aware of where your garlic is coming from.
The Garlic Problem
Most of us in America believe that our garlic comes from California, and you would have been right if it was a few years ago. The self-proclaimed “garlic capital of the world” Gilroy, California, used to be the largest supplier, but they’ve been outdone.
Cheaper production from China has made it easier for the U.S. to import it instead. China is no stranger to controversy when it comes to safety and food though, and garlic is no different. Aside from being bleached with chlorine, it’s also heavily fumigated with pesticides, found to be grown in untreated sewage water and sometimes contaminated with lead.
The bleaching process covers up the natural dirt stains that come with being pulled out of the soil. Henry Bell of the Australian Garlic Industry Association believes that the bleaching done by Chinese farmer’s causes the garlic to stop sprouting, whitens it and kills insects. But what it’s often fumigated with is methyl bromide, a deadly toxin.
High doses of methyl bromide can cause respiratory and central nervous system (CNS) damage. According to the UN, it’s 60 times more dangerous than chlorine. Is that worth saving a couple bucks on imported garlic?
How to Spot American Garlic
In order to meet import regulations, Chinese garlic must have the root removed to prevent soil born diseases and illnesses from entering the country. American farmers won’t pay the extra expense to do it as it’s not required for them.
American garlic contains less water than Chinese. About 42% of the vegetable is solid, whereas the Chinese one is 37%. If you want to test it yourself, squeeze the bulb. The firmer it is, the better.
This one can be tricky if you’re mixing the garlic with other ingredients, but a lot of chefs have said the Chinese garlic has a slight metallic taste. The flavor is believed to be due to allicin level, the contributing compound to taste and smell in garlic. The American ones had 4400ppm (parts per million), and the Chinese ones had 3500ppm.
Even though the majority of garlic in the U.S is imported, you can still find some locally grown if you know what to look for. Never be afraid to ask if something isn’t labeled and keep your body free of unhealthy chemicals.