Monday, May 12, 2008
Garlic or Allium sativum L, is a bulb. It is a member of the onion family Alliaceae. This smelly but delicious little plant is also closely related to shallots and leeks.
As an organic gardener, I have grown garlic as well as onions and shallots. But the easiest and cheapest for me to grow is garlic. When I can't grow it, I buy it at the grocery store.
I can't imagine not having garlic in the kitchen. Yet, in all the years I've eaten garlic, cooked with garlic and bought garlic, I've never stopped to wonder where the garlic was grown. I just assumed grocery store garlic came from the US. Somewhere.
Well, I was right and I was wrong. Up until recently most garlic came from right here in the United States. A lot of it came from California--Gilroy, California to be exact. But now (and for the last few years) the US garlic industry is in danger. It has been fighting a loosing battle against a foreign invader. The battle is not in the garlic fields but in the market place. The US garlic industry, like so many other US industries, is being muscled or rather drowned out of existence by the flood of cheap imported garlic from, guess where?...China, of course. *sigh*
For more information on this issue you can read the article "U.S. Growers Say China's Grip on Garlic Stinks" on the NPR web site. The article details Gilroy, California's garlic growers struggle with the Chinese incursion into the US garlic market.
What can you or I do about this situation? Well, for a start, try to make sure you are buying US and not Chinese garlic, of course. But how?
I learned this great tip for identifying domestic garlic on a gardening show:
First, check for a label, hopefully it will state country of origin and that will answer the question.
If there is no label, then inspect the garlic. Look at the bottom of the bulb. Chinese garlic will very likely have the root end cut out. So, if the bottom is smooth and concave, like the garlic in the picture on the right, then odds are it's imported.
On the other hand, California garlic will look more like fresh from the garden garlic. It will still have some dried root "hairs" on the bottom of the bulb, such as those in the photo on the left.
To reiterate; when shopping, take a second to see if you can determine where the garlic was grown before you buy it. Be sure to look for a label, but also, take a peek at the bottom of the garlic bulb itself.
It may be a small thing, choosing USA grown garlic, instead of Chinese. But if we don't make this small effort now-- while we still can, there may come a day when we won't have to bother. Because one day, garlic and everything else we buy, may come from the same place--China. And then, we won't have a choice.