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harder and harder to find good fresh garlic (and shallots)

Anyone else notice that garlic and shallots in the supermarket are getting nastier every year? At least here in NYC, I have a difficult time finding heads of garlic that aren't moldy, rotten, blemishes, sprouting, etc. Shallots are even worse.

I can still usually find decent garlic at the farmer's market, but I remember when I started cooking about dozen years ago, you could count on getting unblemished garlic at the supermarket. What's going on?

(The pre-peeled garlic in the plastic tubs usually looks fine, but I don't like the idea of using all that plastic just to save a few seconds of work.)

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  1. I live 45 minutes from the Garlic capitol (Gilroy) and I often see not so great garlic. I get spoiled with CSA garlic, and then get annoyed to find sprouting garlic at the grocery stores, not to mention the stale stuff they had a one grocery store. I think the grocery stores are just storing it longer - probably supply and demand. Nicer produce dept. seem to be better.

    1. Also, as an aside, a decent amount of fresh (dried bulb) garlic now is imported from China (for those of you who are avoiding their products).

      1. I couldn't agree with you more, schubert.

        I'm finding this generally about produce, no matter which of the supermarkets I go to in the area. I do most of my grocery shopping now at a little independent family market, and it's better there. But the selection of fruits and veggies is much narrower, and can be catch-as-catch-can, since they won't buy from their suppliers what doesn't look good.

        Nice lemons are getting harder to find, too, I've found over the last couple of years. But garlic and shallots--most definitely. I have the same frustrations, especially with shallots. And what I get, hardly seems to keep at all, even in a keeper in a cool, dark spot.

        5 Replies
        1. re: MaggieRSN

          I agree esp. with the lemons...I have not found a good looking lemon in forever!


          1. re: LaLa

            I find lots of good looking lemons, only to cut into them and find they are 50% peel. I think everything is going down tomato road--grown to sustain long shipping distances, not for flavor.

            1. re: coney with everything

              Foods are being bred for travel, rather than flavor.

              Strawberries. Tomatoes. Lemons. Probably more.

              It's gotten so that if something isn't seasonal and grown locally, it's not worth buying and certainly not worth eating.

              1. re: coney with everything

                That's why I give them a little squeeze. The big hard ones are all peel. The smaller ones that feel juicy and heavy are usually thin skinned

              2. re: LaLa

                Meyer lemons are the very best. We get them in FL., but I know there is a season for them and it's not quite yet. Big and full of juice! My friend has a tree, so lucky me gets a bunch!

            2. If this was three weeks ago jfood would have agreed but in the last few weeks the shallots and garlic and onions have t aken a remarkable turn for the better. In fact jfood thought it may be short lived and bought 10 pounds of onions to caramelize and keep in the fridge. Likewise he roasted a few heads of garlic last weekend and has made some great gravies over the holiday week. And he has not seen such lush shallots in a while. risotto on the menu for this week to take advantage of them.

              Hope others begin to see waht jfood has seen in FFD county CT.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                Because we see them in stores year-round, we don't think of onions as seasonal products, but they really do have a season, and we're in it right now. Onions at other times of year have been in storage, have been grown under marginal conditions, or have been imported, so of course they get moldy or sprout more quickly. Same for garlic.

                I think another factor in garlic is that a few years back they had some kind of mold or blight problems in Gilroy, which allowed imported garlic from China (cheap, but poor quality, at least after shipping) to take over the market -- apparently even Christopher Ranch is importing garlic, then processing it under its label -- look carefully for the country of origin!

                I agree that I have been trouble finding decent garlic outside a farmer's market for several years now.

                BTW, I love Meyer lemons, but they're not interchangeable with regular lemons for many uses, as they're a lot less acid and won't provide the necessary acid balance in some dishes.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Thanks, Ruth. I knew you'd shed some light. Hope to make it out to your neck of the woods again someday.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Don't like the taste of the garlic from China. Here in the Salinas Valley, I've noticed shelf-talkers from Christopher Ranch in the supermarkets showing how to identify California garlic --- roots still on, heart-shaped bulb and some other characteristics.

                2. Add me to the list of those scratching their heads, sorting through sprouted garlic, partially-rotten shallots, withered lemons and bruised onions... and bananas that go from yellow to brown overnight.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: vvvindaloo

                    Here in Portland I've no problem getting great organic shallots & garlic at the farmers' markets. But my gf in DC keeps complaining about not being able to find any good stuff there, so I just mailed her some. Am I a foodie or what?!

                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      to clarify my earlier post, it isn't that good versions of these items are difficult to *find* in NYC, it's simply that I am not accustomed to having to go out of my way to get them. Since when does the local grocer *not* have decent garlic?

                    2. Many Asian markets have much better selections than the standard supermarkets. You might try there.

                      1. I agree, in Florida the bulk bulb garlic is generally bad for about 10 months a year. We've resorting to buying the bottled stuff sometimes because it comes from a local company, but you have to buy so much that half of it goes bad before we can actually use it - and we use garlic in everything. I haven't seen an actual shallot here in...well, I just don't know how long.

                        Bananas are brown in a day, and my apples are always bruised or mealy, and the tomatoes here taste like nothing at all. I don't remember produce being like this even five years ago.

                        I do have a drawer full of beautiful citrus though.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jazzy77

                          I am in the East Bay area of San Francisco, and the garlic is great. We buy @ Costco in order to get the large bag/braid. I use a lot of garlic. Safeway and Lucky garlic looks fine to me.

                        2. Unfortunately this seems true all over, and for all types of produce. In the Boston area, I have purchased garlic in several super-markets (rarely much good) and in smaller local markets (sometimes better) with little success. Growing up in NYC this did not seem to be a problem and, there were always the korean markets, balduccis, zabars and other markets that really controll the quality of their goods. We have a few places like that here in Boston but, my favorite really does charge a bit too much of a premium. Buying in to a "local" co-op, shopping at the farmers markets, and re-learning how to eat according to the seasons seems the best solution and not unpleasant if you can manage it.

                          1. Been finding great Christopher Ranch Calfiornia Garlic (Salinas Valley?) at Costco in small drawstring net bags. Fresh, plump and with large cloves. Been roasting alot and using vast quantities of it.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: toodie jane

                              We get the Christoper Ranch bags too, but I've been finding a lot of rotten cloves lately. It seems like I throw half of the garlic away.

                            2. I live in the Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, and all we have in the local supermarket is Christopher Ranch garlic, two to a little cello-wrapped package, packed with their bottoms facing up so you can't tell if they're sprouted and nasty till you open them up. So I buy my garlic from the Mexican grocery in downtown Storm Lake, 25 miles north. They always have nice, big heads of hard-neck garlic for not very much money. I buy them four or five at a time, use one and roast the others and stick them in the freezer.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: revsharkie

                                Stick them in the freezer???? Please tell me more about that!!

                              2. Most definitely, but I thought crappy sprouted garlic was just unique to where I live. Since I've moved to central Alberta, I've perhaps only come across a couple decent heads of garlic. It's quite depressing actually. I'm sorry you're not having better luck.

                                1. I am glad I'm not the only one that is noticing this. Funny thing, even at some of the farmer's markets I'm not finding decent garlic. I also don't like paying extra for that pre-peeled stuff either. I don't trust it, I'm afraid that the cloves may be mixed and match from some bad garlic.

                                  1. I prefer to buy local (western MA) hardneck garlic--giant cloves (4-6 per head) and really easy to peel. But I think I just got the last of the season last week. I bought 10 heads and am keeping the excess in my basement...do y'all think it will last longer that way?

                                    In the winter I generally have pretty good luck at Trader Joe's--I believe it's their organic garlic--that comes 5 heads stacked on top of each other, wrapped in mesh. It's hardneck (which is always easier to peel) and although the cloves are not as big as the varieties grown here, they are pretty large. They are usually fresh and not sprouting when I buy them. I can't stand buying those softneck heads that require peeling of cloves that amount to about 1/4 (or less) tsp. each!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: smittys

                                      Depends on the basement. Ideal temp IIRC is 50-55 degrees, Colder, they will sprout. Commercial vendors keep them just above freezing, hence once out of storage they sprout pretty readily. I keep a lot of my homegrown (north central MA) stuff as best I can, and remove the sprouts when sprouting starts. Actually I've found that smaller-cloved heads tend to keep better.

                                    2. I got very spoiled this summer, as our local Farmers Market had the most fantastic garlic!! Fresh, and very large cloves. I bought a bunch for over the winter, as the person who grew it, said it would last. Hope so, as the super market variety is pale in conparison!!

                                      1. Nice to know I'm not alone in my garlic frustrations. The decline is still mysterious to me. I would have expected that industrialization might have led garlic and shallots to become sturdier but less tasty (like so much other produce), rather than merely less sturdy. The other day when I gave a head of garlic a squeeze at the supermarket, my thumb sank right into it. Yuck.

                                        (Upper West Side tangent: I have to say that Whole Foods garlic and shallots are reliably good, at least in the Columbus Circle location. Fairway is often bad, unless you buy the occasionally available expensive specialty breed. Bodega garlic is almost always unusable.)

                                        1. I'm so glad to read this thread, I thought I was losing my mind or imagining it. Nothing says over-the-hill like exclaiming "back in the day, I remember when the garlic used to be plump and fresh!" at the grocery store. But yeah, I have been thinkin' it for a while. Now, I overbuy shallots and garlic assuming I'll need to discard 1/2 or so.

                                          1. I have noticed a dwindeling supply of good garlic as well this fall at my regular grocery stop, I am curious as to what is going on.

                                            This past Sunday, they had zero bulbs of garlic, and I almost had to resort to a jar of peeled garlic(yuck). I settled on some packages of organic garlic @ $1.85. Each package consisted of 2 measley, small garlic bulbs, of no better quality than the typical garlic I buy when it is in stock.

                                            I use alot of garlic, and hope this changes, I would hate to resort to already peeld garlic, or the pricey organic garlic all Fall & Winter.

                                            1. Not a problem for me. i use garlic all the time and shallots probably more often than others except for people that post here.

                                              Plenty good garlic available.

                                              1. I have taken to buying pre-peeled garlic in the produce dept. in the plastic tubs under my store's (Central Market in Houston) own brand name. I know what has been said about pre-peeled garlic but these cloves are much higher in quality than anything they've been selling whole, in bulk recently. And I can usually reuse the etubs.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: jim1126

                                                  Garlic is remarkably easy to grow. You can grow it in pots. You can probably grow it indoors. If you're worried about quality, try producing your own.

                                                2. I have gotten some REALLY crappy shallots lately. The garlic is okay however.