Please say it isn’t so!

By Steve Bender
July 08, 2019
Christian Petersen-Clausen/Getty Images

Fresh garlic is a primal pleasure of life. Together with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, I consider it indispensable in the kitchen. I cook with it almost every day.

So imagine my horror when I was informed through social media that the garlic I love may be tainted. How could this be?

Well, not too long ago almost all of the garlic consumed by Americans was grown in California. The Chinese took note of garlic lovers like me and started shipping boatloads of garlic grown in China over here. Because production costs in China are much lower, Chinese garlic costs less. Plus, foreign producers often sell products here below their actual production costs to get a foot in the door.

Soon, Chinese garlic captured half of the American market. This made domestic producers very unhappy. They began a campaign to convince Americans that Chinese garlic was not only inferior in taste, but also toxic, as it was laced with hazardous pesticides and bleach applied by Chinese growers.

If half of the garlic you see for sale is grown here and the other half in China, how are you to know which is which? American growers came up with a simple test. Garlic bulbs with roots scooped off the bottom are Chinese. The scooping, they say, is done to remove contaminated soil and lower shipping costs. (It’s also required by U.S. law.) American bulbs, on the other hand, come with roots attached. Easy-peasy.

Well, it isn't *really* that easy. American growers are free to leave on the roots (it’s cheaper here not to remove them), but they’re aren’t required to do so. They have a choice. If a grower decides his customers think rootless bulbs are prettier and more desirable, he or she can remove them. Then they look just like Chinese garlic.

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What oh what are you to do? You have several options. One, just keep buying the same garlic at the same place you always have and ignore the controversy. Two, buy garlic at the grocery store that’s certified organic and labeled with its domestic source. Three, buy from a local farmer’s market or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. Four, grow your own.

I feel good about the garlic I eat. As long as everyone around me eats garlic as well, they feel good about it too.

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