Garlic is a nutritious vegetable that makes for a savory addition to many recipes. Yet new information has come to light that’ll probably change the way you buy and eat it.

With the focus on using local ingredients nowadays, you’d think your produce is grown in nearby farms, right? Wrong! You could very well be eating something that traveled halfway around the world to get to your grocery basket—and if you’re not careful, it may cause serious health risks.

Not many realize that 80% of the garlic sold around the world actually comes from China. In 2014, the United States imported over 138 million pounds of Chinese garlic, and each year the trend appears to grow. Since you’ve likely been eating this garlic for so long, you may not think it’s a problem—until you learn it’s often covered in bleach and pesticides.

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Most Americans assume their garlic comes from California (Gilroy, California actually calls itself “the garlic capital of the world”). Considering it was once the world’s largest supplier of garlic, that statement might’ve been true. Yet that’s changed in the past few years.

2-chinese-garlicWikimedia Commons / Pedro Xing

In the US, it’s become cheaper and easier to import garlic from places like China. Unfortunately, China isn’t as stringent with its safety regulations. Reports run rampant of garlic bleached in chlorine, fumigated in pesticides, grown in untreated sewage water, and even contaminated with lead.

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The bleach in particular is used to cover up dirt spots, even though they’re perfectly natural. According to the Australian Garlic Industry Association‘s Henry Bell, while bleaching kills insects, prevents sprouting, and helps whiten the bulb, it’s also fumigated with a dangerous toxin called methyl bromide.

4-chinese-garlicWikimedia Commons / Jonathunder

When taken in high doses, methyl bromide can cause central nervous system and respiratory problems. According to the UN, it’s 60 times more dangerous than chlorine—so the lower cost is not worth the risk. Luckily, you can easily tell the difference between Chinese and American garlic.

5-chinese-garlicFlickr / Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough

First, look for the roots. Chinese importers have to remove the roots to abide by regulations, but American farmers have no such rule, and often leave them attached.

6-chinese-garlicWikimedia Commons / Francesco Perito

Second, weigh it. Chinese garlic contains more water, so it’s lighter. It’s actually 37% solid, compared to the American 42%. To test it, give it a squeeze: a firmer bulb is the way to go!

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Third: taste it. Chefs swear that garlic from China has a bit of a metallic taste, while American bulbs are more flavorful. American garlic contains more allicin, which is the dominant factor in determining that distinct taste and smell we all love.

8-chinese-garlicWikimedia Commons / Popo le Chien

Fun fact: garlic from China contains 3500 ppm (parts per million) of allicin, while American garlic has 4400 ppm.

It may cost a bit more, sure, but buying American garlic is safer and well worth it. If nothing else, it simply tastes better!

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