Glorious garlic

Garlic bulb_LR

WORDS Erin Wright

Australians eat 3,500 tonnes of garlic every year—and their love of this pungent bulb is growing.

A modest local industry produces around 500 tonnes—the introduction of cheap, bleached imported garlic in the mid 1990s saw a massive decline in local production says the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA).

Today China is the world’s leading producer and exporter of garlic—in 2012 they produced 59 million metric tonnes. Much of this is bound for Australia with 95 per cent of garlic sold in Australia from China.

The AGIA, however, says the Chinese product lacks freshness and quality assurance.

‘There is no way of regulating the pesticides or processes used in the production of garlic in China, says Henry Bell, secretary of the AGIA. ‘I don’t believe the Australian quarantine regulations are strict enough in terms of bacteria testing on imported produce’.

The pristine white imported garlic is often bleached for aesthetic purposes. The AGIA also says that Chinese garlic is gamma irradiated and sprayed with Maleic Hydrazide (MH) to extend its shelf life and retard sprouting. While many scientific studies report that MH has a low acute toxicity, the United States Environmental Protection Agency says that hydrazide is a contaminant linked to tumour induction.

In addition, garlic from China and is fumigated to meet Australian quarantine import regulations and protect Australia against the many pests and diseases found in China. Methyl bromide, a colourless gas is used—a highly toxic sterility agent often used as an insecticide, herbicide and fungicide.

The AGIA also believes imported garlic also raises concerns over the freshness, health benefits and flavour as there is a chance it has been in storage for long periods before it is presented in supermarkets and shops. You may in fact be buying last year’s crop.

The upside for consumers is that here has been a resurgence of interest in Australian garlic in the last few years. NSW Department of Primary Industries reports that the introduction of improved varieties of garlic and a greater appreciation by shoppers of the fresh product has improved the market prospects for locally grown garlic.

Jocelyn Colleran is passionate about educating consumers about garlic. She is a boutique garlic producer in the Upper Myall Valley near Gloucester.

Jocelyn runs garlic-growing workshops and is passionate about cooking with garlic. She has organised themed dinners where garlic features as the main ingredient in all courses—including dessert. In 2012, chef Will Lute created a vanilla bean pannacotta with burnt orange garlic caramel sauce, garlic toffee and honeycomb crumble. Jocelyn says it was simply stunning.

Jocelyn says the best way to ensure you are buying quality Australian garlic is to buy from trusted sources: ‘Get to know your local greengrocer or the supplier at your local farmers market; there are also many Australian growers who now sell their garlic online.’

It’s also useful to know that the garlic season in Australia begins in September with garlic harvested in the warmer areas of Queensland. The harvest then travels south with NSW garlic harvested early to mid-November, Victoria and South Australia in early December and January and December in Tasmania with the Australian garlic season ending in February.

And garlic stores well and will keep for months in a cool, dry, ventilated place.

Jocelyn Colleran will be hosting garlic workshops as part of the Dungog Food Affair on Saturday 2 November 2013. For more information, visit www.visitnsw.com/events/dungog-food-affair

The third annual garlic dinner will be held at Roadies Café, Gloucester in mid-January 2014. For details call 6558 2772 or email Jocelyn at jcolleran@bigpond.com.

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