Skip to content

Which garlic is safe to eat? How to grow it, and how to make vegan aioli

July 25, 2016

Garlicaioli-8102Have 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?

Why Chinese garlic could be dangerous plus vegan garlic aioli recipe on

Wet garlic from The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace

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

  1. Buy some organic garlic around end the of September.
  2. Separate the cloves and select the largest ones; put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, with the date marked on it.
  3. 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.
  4. Plant out during mid to end of November in a mixture of sand and soil with lots of nitrogen and organic compost.
  5. 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.

Why Chinese garlic could be dangerous plus vegan garlic aioli recipe on

Easy vegan garlic mayo or Aquafaba aioli (for true garlic lovers)

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 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….



  1. July 25, 2016 3:16 am

    Thanks for this – not something I’d heard about before. In Dubai, I always bought from Spinneys and, perversely, thought that the sprouting was a problem. Now I understand it’s a good sign. Garlic is one of those kitchen staples that we buy without thinking… Wish I could find wild garlic here in the UK – it used to grow in the woods around my school in Surrey and was a great taste treat!

  2. July 25, 2016 3:58 am

    I blogged my disgust last year when our local “farmers markets” were selling Chinese garlic. It’s truly nasty stuff and it fascinates me how few people realise that.

    • July 25, 2016 10:32 am

      Yes, I think the awareness is low which prompted my post. Off to check yours out now Mel.

  3. July 25, 2016 5:04 am

    Oh dear. So happy we can buy local. We always buy tons in summer from a farmer who’s a friend. Lots goes bad before the next year, but with a good amount of cutting around bad spots, we usually make it through. Garlic is amazingly easy to grow. If we ever get organized enough, we’ll do it again. (Beautiful pic of the green garlic.)

    • July 25, 2016 10:32 am

      Lucky you Michelle. Definitely going to have a stab at growing my own this year.

  4. July 25, 2016 9:32 am

    Luckily my greengrocer has started selling beautiful big fat fresh bulbs of garlic as a result of this news about Chinese garlic 🙂 I think once you know the difference, you’ll never go back! And anyway, who wants all that horrible toxic stuff in their bodies?!

  5. July 25, 2016 10:33 am

    Indeed Elaine. The flavour of really good garlic is a joy isn’t it.

  6. glamorous glutton permalink
    July 25, 2016 10:59 am

    Amazing that you can make Mayo from chickpea water. I had no idea about all those nuances of garlic. I’m going to check labels from now on. There’s a farm shop nearby that mainly has Isle of Wight garlic, perhaps I’ll stick to that. GG

  7. crasterkipper permalink
    July 25, 2016 11:23 am

    Interested to try the mayo recipe – looks nice & simple too, my kind of recipe!

  8. July 25, 2016 11:29 am

    Thankfully we get our “own” garlic here. The only time I cave with not buying local is when grapes first show up in store.
    Think I will attempt growing garlic again.
    Have a wonderful day Sally.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  9. July 25, 2016 11:39 am

    I always wondered about the extended shelf life of garlic here! Now I know. I’ve only ever seen the Chinese variety in the supermarkets here. Thanks for sharing. x

  10. July 25, 2016 12:03 pm

    What an enlightening post – so much I had no idea about. Thanks for educating and inspiring Sally! Aquafaba sounds sensational.

  11. July 25, 2016 12:12 pm

    And black garlic Sally? there were a few articles on that in the UK press last Summer I think. Have tried it here…

  12. July 25, 2016 2:12 pm

    Great post, Sally. I stopped buying Chinese garlic years ago, and always opt for the organic version from Europe. I tend to buy most of my garlic from Carrefour–they have a couple of organic options (Spain, France), and always have pink French garlic, too.
    Isn’t Aquafaba great? I’ve used it to make vegan “cream” and fluffy dips, too. So good.

  13. July 25, 2016 3:15 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out. My husband and I actually prefer the vegan version although we aren’t vegan. It is really hard not to think, oh it’s vegan so I will eat the whole jar! Great facts on garlic. I grow garlic but it rarely lasts as long as I need it so I look out for the Spanish kind too. Pine nuts are another thing I love that comes mainly from China and is heavily treated to prevent mould…

  14. July 25, 2016 4:21 pm

    I have always wondered about the Chinese garlic sold in Carrefour (and the ginger! and the carrots!).

    This year, I’m going to take a stab at growing garlic and ginger. I’ve bought organic ginger for this purpose a few times last year but never got around to it.

  15. fryingpanadventures permalink
    July 25, 2016 4:51 pm

    I am so glad that you wrote this article. A few months ago, I had bought a long pack of Chinese garlic and was doing some research because it turned green when I made paste out of it (which is not abnormal – but I read that it could be because the garlic was old?) I tried Indian garlic last week which was worse – tiny cloves full of rotten orange-brown mushy stuff. Then went back to buying Chinese this week. It always did look remarkably white, and now thanks to you I know why.

    Now that I know, I’m ditching the Chinese bleached stuff and will buy the European stuff. Thank you. Super useful!

  16. July 25, 2016 6:14 pm

    I never knew what I was missing until garlic started arriving in my veg box. I can’t go back to the supermarket stuff – it’s awful! Love aioli too 🙂

  17. July 25, 2016 6:15 pm

    Wow fascinating post. Definitely only buying farmers market garlic now and love the idea of trying a vegan mayonnaise.

  18. July 25, 2016 8:11 pm

    We have not had great success growing garlic previously (or other alliums) though we’ve been good on other fruit and vegetables but we’re trying again this year as a friend passed on some extra seedlings. So far, so good! And yes, definitely agree that it’s best to avoid all the extra bleaches and chemicals used in China. We do grow very good garlic in Europe, grown to European agricultural standards.

  19. July 27, 2016 3:00 am

    I’m so glad you shared this post Sally because awareness of the inferior quality of Chinese garlic is so low – and once you’ve tried local stuff there is no going back. I bought two huge strands of Australian garlic last season (around 30 bulbs) and I’m just getting through the last of it now (as I planned ahead and froze some of the cloves) 😄

    • Lyndal permalink
      September 3, 2016 12:47 pm

      Laura I was hoping someone would bring up freezing garlic! Never done it but had to buy a bag and now it is more likely the Chinese garlic! Will throw but is there a time frame for freezing?

      • September 7, 2016 2:17 am

        I think you can freeze at any point when the garlic is still in good shape….it’s worked for me 😄

  20. July 27, 2016 8:24 am

    My mother used to grow garlic in her vegetable garden that looked like the wet garlic in your photo. I remember the strong smell and how she used to sneak it into our salads when we were growing up – it made me develop a taste for it early on in life. I’ll be stopping by the organic cafe this morning to grab some bulbs. Your aioli looks lovely 🙂

  21. Lyndal permalink
    September 3, 2016 12:47 pm

    Every day a school day! I never knew that…never mind going on a bear hunt I’m on a garlic hunt!! Thanks for the post!!


  1. Which garlic is safe to eat? How to grow it, and how to make vegan aioli | My Custard Pie – Be, and It Is Homestead

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: