In recent years, garlic from China has started to come onto the market, often disguised, but there are simple ways to tell Chinese garlic apart from its Russian or US counterparts. The bulb of the former is even and rounded, without a stalk protruding and often is made up of just one garlic piece instead of many different segments like in the latter. Beyond aesthetics, there are some serious concerns with Chinese garlic.
The bulb is often cited as having a metallic taste, which could be a result of the soil it is grown in. According to a report issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources in China, one-fifth of Chinese land is contaminated; 16.1 percent of the country’s soil is polluted, including 19.4 percent of farmland. The most common pollutants were cadmium, nickel and arsenic.
Furthermore, since land studies in 1986 and 1990, the levels of these toxins have been on the rise; cadmium has risen by 50% in the southwest and coastal regions and by 10 to 40 percent in other regions (NYtimes.com). Garlic coming from contaminated soil could pose health risks to consumers.
Want to know if your garlic comes from China? Always check the label. If you see your country listed as the “importing” country, you know that garlic was not homegrown and there is a possibility it is from China. Beware, the country of origin is often mislabeled, but using the first point will help you distinguish it by its appearance.
According to the Wall Street Journal, China is responsible for 80% of the world’s garlic exports. In a preliminary study of garlic that I conducted in Moscow, I found that out of 10 brands of garlic in three different grocery stores, 100% were from China.
Your best bet may be to get it from your local farmers market, but make sure to ask where they got it from, because some farmers markets simply resell produce they buy at a larger market. So, next time you’re in the market for garlic, do your homework to make sure you know where your bulb comes from.