California versus Chinese Garlic
Garlic and onions alike are a topic of debate in the spice world. Some people insist that neither garlic nor onions should be considered spices, as they should only be used fresh. Other people insist that they can't live without garlic or onion powder, flakes, or granules, as these save time when cooking. The people who enjoy garlic and onions as a spice are further divided into people who are extremely particular about where their spices are sourced and then others who don't really know or care. The United States has a lot of strong opinions about Chinese products of all sorts, particularly garlic. Here at Spices, Inc. we have been trying to figure out some stuff about China ourselves, especially in relation to Chinese grown garlic.
When we first started Spices, Inc. we went for a high-quality garlic, but we were less concerned about where it came from, so sourcing a domestic garlic wasn't our main priority. After some feedback from our customers though, we started doing research on domestic garlic versus imported garlic from China.
How Much Garlic?
On average, every single person in the United States consumes roughly three pounds of garlic in a year. Many people think of California as the garlic capital of the world, but in fact most of our garlic comes from China. Back in the early 90s, China accounted for only 2% of the garlic imported to the United States. By the year 2009, that number was up to about 50% and by 2012 it was about 66%. This number continues to grow daily. 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. In 2001 California was only growing approximately 29,000 acres of garlic and by 2013 this number had dropped to approximately 23,000 acres. California's Central Valley region has an ideal warm Mediterranean type of climate with fertile, rich fields. This is an ideal area for growing some of the best tasting garlic in the world, so this loss of garlic crops has been a bit of a culinary tragedy.
Can You Tell the Difference in Flavor?
There have been studies to see if there is a marked difference between the flavor of Chinese garlic and California garlic. Some have been blind taste tests, which are considered unscientific, and others have been brix tests conducted by the National Food Laboratory. The blind taste tests had chefs tasting and then voting for which was the more flavorful garlic. The result was that the California garlic was thought to be more flavorful. In the brix tests, it was discovered that California garlic is about 42% solid and Chinese garlic is only about 37% solid, meaning that California garlic is denser and heavier. The lab also measured allicin, the compound in garlic that gives it its scent when it is crushed. The results showed that the California garlic has 4,400 parts per million (ppm) of this odiferous compound while Chinese garlic only has 3,500 ppm. Regardless of these results, flavor is very subjective and personal, and there is not truly accurate scientific measurement for these things. You will have to draw your own conclusions about which tastes better for you.
Why California Garlic
We at Spices, Inc. are driven more by flavor and quality than price. We import many of our products from all over the world, so we certainly aren't saying you should buy only American grown spices. If that were the case, your food would end up being pretty basic and not as flavorful as it could be. At the same time, we like to support local farmers and the local food movement whenever possible, even if the definition of local expands all the way to the other side of the country, since we are on the east coast.
So we have made it our goal to strive to offer garlic grown in California at all times as an option for our customers, even though this garlic is a little more pricey than its Chinese grown counterparts.
Our Frustrating Search for California Grown Organic Garlic
Since our beginning as a company, we have spent literally hundreds of hours searching for a source of domestic organic grown garlic. The struggle continued because it was difficult to secure a reliable supply source as well as a good quality product. Economically speaking, it is hard for California growers to grow organic garlic as it is hard to produce and process certified organic garlic. They have been largely unable to maintain a high enough sale price that they could justify the expense of growing organic garlic.
There are several farms in California that grow a decent amount of organic garlic and have a high-quality product, but which do not dehydrate their garlic for the purpose of making spices. This problem has been made worse by the droughts that have been plaguing much of California for several years, so the garlic they do manage to grow is often able to be sold fresh and making spices is the last priority to these farmers.
Finally, we were recently able to source some of this high quality organic domestic garlic to add to our lineup. Conditions of crops have gotten better in California and there has been a resurgence in interest for California garlic over the last few years. Farmers are anticipating a much higher yield in the 2018 garlic crops, which is excellent news for us.
So go ahead and give some of our organic garlic products a try! Let us know if you can tell the difference between the California and the Chinese garlic.