Which garlic is safe to eat? How to grow it, and how to make vegan aioli
Have you stood behind me in the grocery weighing section?
Me: “Have you got any garlic that isn’t from China?”
Shop assistant: “Let me look for you Mam.” Goes off, returns. “Sorry Mam. Only from China.”
Me: Leaves shop without garlic looking peeved.
So what’s wrong with the bright, white abundant cheap garlic that most of us consume without thinking? Firstly it’s the taste – bland and un-aromatic, but with nothing to compare it to, we’ve become used to that. But more importantly, the Chinese garlic is treated with chemicals – some are highly toxic. Here in Dubai the authorities are pretty stringent about testing things but there may be residues of treatments that are used in China but banned in other countries. At the very least the garlic is white because it has been bleached by using chlorine dioxide or a mixture of sulphur and wood ash. Whitening is a long-used ploy to attract customers, see bleached flour (now banned in UK). Growth inhibitors to stop garlic from sprouting are also used routinely and can be made from hormones or chemicals. These same substances, together with gamma irradiation, extend the shelf life but do you want them in your food?
I try to buy European garlic (usually from Spain) but if I had the choice I would buy local. At the end of the Farmers’ Market there was very young or wet garlic; it looked like a small leek as the cloves hadn’t started to form and had a mild garlic aroma and flavour (good lightly roasted).
In Dubai you can find European garlic in Spinneys and Waitrose most of the time and at Lafayette Gourmet in the Lootah Premium Foods section. The Spanish garlic I got from Waitrose was sprouting when I bought it – this is a good thing. Organic garlic from China is available but aspersions have been cast as to the validity, plus it’s still gleaming white i.e. bleached. Spinneys assures me that their Spanish garlic is white because of the variety i.e. no bleaching. Their buyers travel with Taste of Spain several times a year and visit the farms of their producers. They are looking at getting organic garlic from this supplier too. It’s good to know they are a member of GLOBAL G.A.P. which promotes sustainable sourcing policies across the globe.
Laura from Slow Food Dubai recommends organic garlic from Organic Foods and Cafe. I asked her, a keen home gardener, if it was possible to grow garlic.
She has tried to grow it many times with very varying success. Garlic cloves need cold weather during their infancy to grow properly into bigger bulbs later. She’s trying to source a few heirloom hot weather varieties and doing some trials in the rooftop garden.
Tips for growing garlic in Dubai or warm climates
- Buy some organic garlic around end the of September.
- Separate the cloves and select the largest ones; put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, with the date marked on it.
- After 4-6 weeks at temperature below 4°C (but not too cold, so don’t use the freezer) take them out for planting. Soak them in water for a few days until you see them sprout a green shoot. They might have sprouted already in the fridge, if so just soak in water overnight.
- Plant out during mid to end of November in a mixture of sand and soil with lots of nitrogen and organic compost.
- Don’t over water.
Aioli or allioli is a great use for good garlic, but what to do when you have a vegan in the house or people who are coming round who can’t eat raw egg (pregnant women for instance)? Thanks to Kellie for enlightening me to the magic properties of aquafaba – nothing other than the liquid from chickpeas (or some other beans). It really does whisk up in the same way as egg yolks with oil to form a thick unctuous dippable substance. Depending on the ingredients you use, the chickpea flavour is there in the background but it’s seriously addictive stuff. I’ve been dipping into this by the spoonful. Slightly less creamy than regular aioli but no compromise. I love the fact it uses something that would normally go down the sink too.
Easy vegan garlic mayo or Aquafaba aioli (for true garlic lovers)
- 1 tablespoon fresh juice lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or to taste)
- 45ml liquid from a can of chickpeas
- 1 medium clove garlic, chopped finely
- 180ml vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed rapeseed oil)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place all the ingredients except the oil and seasoning in a jug or beaker and blitz until combined with a stick (immersion) blender. Keep the blender running and add the oil fairly slowly until the mixture turns thick and glossy like mayonnaise. Taste and stir in salt and pepper as required.
It really does transform into thick mayo before your eyes, quite magically. The rapeseed oil in mine gives it a beautiful yellow colour. This packs quite a punch so halve the garlic if you are planning on doing anything intimate (or make sure you both eat it).
I’d love to hear about other types of garlic. It’s become one of those monoculture crops that we only see the same type of. Surely there must be a whole range of varieties somewhere. And have you ever tried growing it? Do let me know….