Garlic is a pungent vegetable used to flavor many savory recipes for Italian, Latino and Asian dishes.

Not common in English cooking until the last several decades, garlic is a staple in most Anglo-descendent homes today. Americans consume an average of 3 pounds each year, according to Sue Kovach Shuman’s Washington Post article “Cause for Concern in Chinese Bulbs?”

Shuman wrote, “Garlic is the United States’ biggest fresh-vegetable import from China, which sent us 138 million pounds of it worth more than $70 million last year. We also get small amounts from Mexico, Argentina and about 15 other countries.”

Some imported garlic products, like garlic powder, are suspected of containing arsenic, lead and sulfites, according to John Layous, of the Garlic Company in Bakersfield, Calif., in the Washington Post article. He supplies Costco, Sam’s Club and food-service companies.

Also in the Post article, Bill Christopher of Christopher Ranch in California admits to buying Chinese garlic, because it’s cheap, to use in sauces. Christopher says domestic garlic tastes better than imported.

Health benefits of garlic are unproven but from ancient times people have used garlic for medicine as well as food.

Understanding that domestic garlic is more expensive, grown on farms where workers are paid living wages instead of a couple of dollars a day, I want American-grown garlic. I’ll gladly pay more for an American product that is, I believe, safer, cleaner and better.

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Local farmers raise garlic. Tom Runyon has elephant garlic (really a member of the leek family). Elephant garlic is less pungent than regular.

Dana Phlegar has purple garlic.

A trip to local supermarkets just to scout for U.S.-grown garlic was informative to say the least. Sure enough, most garlic, packaged in netting or boxes, declared it to be a “Product of China.”

Kroger’s packaged garlic is marked “Product of USA.” Each bulb has little tentacles on the bottom. You can tell Chinese garlic from American by looking at the bottom of the bulb. Chinese garlic is smooth, with the roots cut off. Domestic garlic has little roots on the bottom.

Fresh garlic can be made safe by poaching. Drop the bulb in a pan of boiling water for a minute. Rinse in tap water and peel, chop, mince or mash as desired.

Reading labels is always a good suggestion. My jar of powdered garlic says it is a product of the U.S. and China. I had no clue. It is an American company label. I don’t intend to use it again. I’ll poach or roast and mince fresh homegrown garlic from now on instead of using prepared powdered or dehydrated garlic.

Companies in the U.S. and Canada import garlic (and other products) from China, India and other countries, use it as an ingredient in prepared foods and package the food using an American product label. This government allows American companies to claim a product as being from the U.S. when it may well be contaminated with an element from another country. Remember the toxins found in pet food and Chinese toothpaste.

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Roast garlic for garlic bread and other recipes. It is delicious roasted as well as safer.

Roasted Garlic

• Garlic bulbs, peeled

• 1 teaspoon peanut, extra virgin olive or canola oil per garlic clove (spoonful of melted butter is delicious also)

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Peel away papery skin. Slice off top pointy ends of bulb to expose pulp in cloves. Place each bulb bottom on a square of oiled aluminum foil. Drizzle oil over cloves on cut side. Fold foil over bulb and twist to seal.

Roast 45 minutes to an hour or until garlic is completely soft and lightly browned. Separate head into individual cloves. Squeeze a clove. Pulp should come out like toothpaste.

For great garlic bread, slice a French baguette horizontally in half. Spread with butter. Toast. While bread is still hot, squeeze garlic cloves on buttered side. Spread roasted garlic with a knife.

Store leftover garlic, and garlic-infused oil, in refrigerator.

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Notes of local interest:

Sam’s just received a case of nice choice grade, beef flank steaks. That cut of beef is hard to come by!

Food City opened a marvelous meat department. It has a great selection of beef, pork, lamb and poultry but most of all — fish! The selection includes gorgeous wild U.S. salmon, cod, rockfish, halibut, trout, almost anything you want. It’d be great if the store would stock West Virginia-farmed Arctic char. It is mild, medium-textured white fish with no chemicals or pollution warnings at all. It does not taste fishy. Even Husband Bob (no fish eater) likes it.

The Sugar Shak moved into Kim’s Restaurant on the corner of lower Mercer and 3rd Street. It’s a pleasant place for lunch.

Sister’s Coffee House moved up near the courthouse in Princeton, at 1606 West Main Street. The Sister’s folks have a knack for making comfortable, homey eating places.

Mercer County Tailgate Produce Market is in business every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 8 a.m. until the fresh produce is all sold. It is located at the parking lot of the Mercer County Technical Education Center. Come early. Someone will have fresh garlic. (FYI: Fresh garlic will last six months stored high and dry.)

Buy local produce. It helps our economy and can offer your family safer food.

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