How To Tell the Difference Between American and Chinese Garlic

Here is how to tell the difference.

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

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

What is the Difference Between American and Chinese Garlic?

Many people think of California as the garlic capital of the world when, in fact, most of our garlic 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 is much less profitable now.

How do you tell the difference between domestic and Chinese garlic when shopping for produce? 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, required by U.S. law. On the other hand, domestic bulbs 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
Dissoid / Getty Images

How To Buy the Freshest Garlic

You have several options. The first option is to keep buying the same garlic at the same place you always have and ignore the controversy. Two, buy garlic at the grocery store certified organic and labeled with its domestic source. The third option is to 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.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles