Chinese Garlic Bulbs
Credit: Christian Petersen-Clausen/Getty Images

Fresh garlic is a primal pleasure of life. Together with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, I consider it indispensable in the kitchen. Since I cook with it almost every day I want my garlic to be as fresh and local as the rest of my produce. So, unless I purchase garlic from a CSA or farmers' market, how do I know I am purchasing domestic garlic?

Many people think of California as the garlic capital of the world when, in fact, most of our garlic actually comes from China. Because production costs in China are much lower, Chinese garlic costs less. As Chinese garlic continues to flood our markets, California growers are less likely to choose garlic as a crop, since it so much less profitable now.

When shopping for produce, how do you tell the difference between domestic and Chinese garlic? Garlic bulbs with roots scooped off the bottom (leaving a clean concave) are Chinese. The scooping lowers the weight and thus the shipping costs, but it also removes contaminated soil – something that is required by U.S. law. Domestic bulbs, on the other hand, come with roots attached - sometimes. While American growers are free to leave the roots on the bulbs, if a grower believes that rootless bulbs are prettier and more desirable to shoppers, then he can remove them, making his domestic garlic look just like Chinese garlic.

Garlic with Roots
Credit: Dissoid/Getty Images

So what are you to do? You have several options. One, just keep buying the same garlic at the same place you always have and ignore the controversy. Two, buy garlic at the grocery store that's certified organic and labeled with its domestic source. Three, buy from a local farmer's market or a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. Four, grow your own. If you are concerned about the origin of your produce and how it is grown, planting your own garden is the best way to guarantee your family is eating pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.