INTRO: there are two articles here.
Did you know that over 80 percent of the garlic sold worldwide comes from China? In fact, a large amount of garlic we consume here in America is from China. The U.S. imported 138 million pounds last year Most consumers think that their garlic was grown in California, the “Garlic Capital of the World,” but, in reality, it was shipped from China. Even “organic” garlic is often from China, where organic certification methods can not be trusted.
Chinese garlic is bleached. According to Henry Bell of the Australian Garlic Industry Association, garlic from China is sprayed with chemicals to stop sprouting, to whiten garlic, and to kill insects and plant matter. He also reports that garlic is grown in untreated sewage, “Bell also calls into question some growing practices in China. “I know for a fact that some garlic growers over there use raw human sewage to fertilise their crops, and I don’t believe the Australian quarantine regulations are strict enough in terms of bacteria testing on imported produce,” he says. “I also challenge the effectiveness of the Chinese methyl bromide fumigation processes.”
Chinese garlic heavily fumigated with methyl bromide to get rid of any bugs. Methyl bromide is a very toxic hazard. Exposure to high concentrations can cause damage to the respiratory and central nervous systems, even death. According to the UN it is 60 times more damaging than chlorine and is the base of CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons).
Chinese garlic is also contaminated with lead, sulfites and other unsafe compounds.
Chinese garlic may be treated with growth inhibitors and subjected to cold temperatures, as well as over-storage. Over storage is particularly problematic as levels of allicin, one of the major constituents in garlic responsible for its health benefits, start to decline over time.
Fresher and smellier
July 19, 2005
There are good reasons to ask where your garlic comes from, reports David Sutherland.
It’s a complex tale involving top-level global trade arrangements, far-reaching political chicanery and fiercely divided loyalties.
Yes, we’re talking garlic. That innocent little bulb of pungent goodness, loved by so many for its versatility and depth of flavour, and still detested by some poor misguided souls for its powerful odour. Used widely in cuisines the world over – and in natural and traditional therapies, not to mention warding off the odd vampire – for eons.
But have you ever wondered where the garlic we buy comes from? And what has happened to it between being plucked from the ground and landing on our shelves?
“Something like 90 per cent of the garlic that we buy in Australia is imported,” says John Sutherland (no relation), who has been involved in horticulture for 45 years and consults to the local garlic industry.
People on the coalface, from growers through to greengrocers, suggest darkly that the market is “flooded” with imported garlic. And it’s cheap and healthy-looking, with big, chunky bulbs and often with a flawless white appearance.Why wouldn’t you buy it? Indeed, why would you even care where it comes from?
According to Henry Bell, executive officer at the Australian Garlic Industry Association, there are several reasons to at least pause for thought.
“Whether you’re looking for taste and flavour or whether you’re looking for blood-science benefits,” he says, “the key is freshness. And if you’re buying imported garlic then sometimes you’re even getting last year’s crop.” He points out that it may have been picked and cool-stored, treated with growth inhibitors to stop it sprouting on the shelf, bleached with chlorine to make it look white and healthy, and has by law been fumigated with methyl bromide to kill bugs and plant matter.
Bell is most concerned about the garlic coming out of China. That nation is by far the largest garlic grower, producing about 500,000 tonnes a year. The next biggest is the US, with about 70,000 tonnes, which gives an indication of China’s dominance. According to Sutherland, some countries, including much of Europe, introduced trade barriers a couple of decades ago in the form of tariffs to stop Chinese produce – including garlic – from flooding their markets.
But Australia has no such barriers. In talks over a trade agreement with China, it’s an admittedly complex and sensitive issue, but Bell for one doesn’t bother mincing words.
“The Australian garlic industry is small and doesn’t have the influence that the larger industries here have. I’ve been told by bureaucrats that if Australia puts up a stink about Chinese garlic then our next wheat or wool shipment will be made to sit out in the China Sea while they buggerise around trying to prove a point punishing us.”
Bell also calls into question some growing practices in China. “I know for a fact that some garlic growers over there use raw human sewage to fertilise their crops, and I don’t believe the Australian quarantine regulations are strict enough in terms of bacteria testing on imported produce,” he says. “I also challenge the effectiveness of the Chinese methyl bromide fumigation processes.”
In any case, it’s coming in, it’s hitting our supermarket and greengrocer shelves, and it’s cheap. And it’s selling. So what does this mean for the local industry?
“There’s no way we can compete with a huge grower like China, so supermarket chains are not the way to go,” says Sutherland.
“To support local growers we need to get the price up, and the future lies in specialist retailers and markets where people are interested in where the food they eat comes from and are happy to pay a bit more to know that it was grown locally or is chemical-free.”
He points out that many of the larger garlic growers have folded under the pressure of cheap imports, and smaller growers – including organic – are popping up to feed the niche market.
Tom Belford is one of these. A viticulturist by trade, he began growing garlic in the Yarra Valley a few years ago as an adjunct to the grape-growing season. “It’s absolutely viable on a small scale,” he says. “You plant it once, you pick it once, and it stores well. And at the city markets, where the boutique buyers go . . . it sells for anything up to $25 a kilo.”
And the taste? Garlic, like onions and other alliums, is made up of a range of enzymes and remarkably volatile sulphur compounds, which remain relatively inert until they are mixed. That is, once crushed or chopped, the compounds mix and react with the enzymes, accounting for the pungent sulphurous odour and that fantastic, rich taste. This volatility also explains the different effects you get from garlic depending on how you use it: whether you bake it whole (resulting in a sweet, nutty effect), add it to the pan early and fry it (aromatic and infused), or add it towards the end of cooking or eat it raw (bitingly pungent).
Once the clove has begun sprouting, much of the sulphurous energy has gone into producing the shoot and the clove has lost most of its potency. So whether you’re hoping to cook with it or use it as a natural health remedy, the fresher you get it, the better it will be.
If you have no choice but to use older garlic, it’s a good idea to follow the advice of many cooks and remove the bitter green inner “germ”, or sprout.
Virginia Redmond, owner-chef at St Kilda institution Cicciolina, acknowledges that Chinese garlic may not have quite the potency of local stuff.
“Eating Chinese garlic is a bit like kissing your cousin: no buzz,” she says. “But in a basic pasta sauce, along with other flavours, you can’t really taste the difference.” For cost reasons, Redmond uses Chinese garlic most of the time.
So what does all this mean for us when we’re shopping for garlic? Ask where the garlic comes from, and if it’s not labelled as imported then politely mention that state guidelines insist that all imported foods be labelled as such. Then ask when it was picked. If they don’t know, then change retailers.
Controversial? No. World-shattering? I don’t think so. Simple, really.