For a plant that can be grown almost anywhere, it’s amazing that over 66% of garlic consumed worldwide is actually grown in China (other figures suggest 80%!). That’s right, the garlic you’re buying in your local supermarket with a quaint family-farm sounding name on it has probably been shipped half-way around the world before being nicely packaged for your consumption.
China produces a whopping 59 million metric tonnes followed by South Korea, India, America, Egypt and then Spain. Chinese garlic producers have been accused of using chemicals banned in food production such as bleach and several trade disputes with countries over garlic have broken out in the past. Garlic tends to attract import duties and therefore is ripe (excuse the pun) for being classed as other fruit on official forms or being classed as frozen rather than fresh – all in a bid to avoid taxes and levies.
A Netflix series (“Rotten”) devoted one of its shows to garlic and told the sorry tale of disputes between American and Chinese garlic growers that ended up in court and regulatory proceedings. The show featured one Chinese wholesaler who told of Chinese prisoners being forced to peel garlic with their teeth because their fingers were so worn.
Garlic is renowned for its health benefits as well as keeping vampires at bay. An ancient clay Sumerian tablet records garlic in medicinal prescriptions and has been dated to 3,000 years ago. Garlic is planted in October or very early spring and needs cold weather for a few weeks in order to split into cloves. Pick a sunny spot and keep weeded and it should be ready for harvest around May-June. While it is possible to grow shop bought garlic, do check the origin prior to planting to avoid introducing disease into the garden.
The main compound responsible for the health benefits is allicin which travels all over the body when digested. It is also laden with Manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and Selenium along with a host of other nutrients and minerals and comes in at around 40 calories. It is famous for its cold and flu fighting abilities, reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and is reputed to help you live longer.
Raw garlic in particular has been linked with reducing the risk of lung, colon and pancreatic cancer but research is still ongoing.
Garlic is so good for you that unless you are suffering from garlic poisoning, use it for every other ailment. There, I said it.
In magical terms, it is associated with the planet Mars, the element of fire, the sign of Aries and is used to promote strength, vitality and endurance. Various cultures worldwide have used garlic braids to ward off evil and keep homes safe.
The Australian Garlic Producers state that “In China, chemicals banned in Australia are still being used to grow garlic. Australia imports 95% of our garlic from China. Chinese garlic is gamma irradiated to prevent sprouting and is also sprayed with Maleic Hydrazide to extend shelf life. All imported garlic is fumigated with Methyl Bromide by AQIS on arrival in Australia. “
Many sites point out that garlic from China can be easy to identify because the bulb will have had its roots removed. Home grown produce will still have roots as its an extra expense for food producers to remove them when they don’t have to.
As always, if you want to follow the safest path, look for garlic that is certified organic and produced as close to home as possible. Consume raw – a great way of taking garlic raw is to cut it into ‘pill’ sized pieces. You can pop them throughout the day instead of popping pills but be prepared for some serious garlic breath. Those who love you will understand 🙂
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