Cooking at home is often a balance between quality and convenience. Will jarred tomato sauce ever compare to Nonna’s homemade pasta pomodoro? Probably not. But since a jar of Rao’s and a pot of spaghetti comes together in just a few minutes, it’s hard to pass up.
Redditors posed a similar question about peeled garlic on r/Cooking, asking if it was an “acceptable kitchen shortcut.”
Most top commenters — some of whom are industry professionals — said that there’s no harm in buying pre-peeled garlic, especially since it’s what plenty of restaurants already use.
But prepared garlic has its critics. Beyond peeled garlic’s higher cost and tendency to go bad faster, multiple Redditors said that they don’t buy pre-peeled garlic because it is produced with Chinese prison labor.
It’s true that China is the garlic capital of the world, and it’s also true that Chinese prisoners are forced to work if able, a state policy known as “reform through labor.” Both the Financial Times and the 2018 Netflix docuseries “Rotten” have reported specifically on prison-produced peeled garlic in China, though it’s unclear how prevalent its sale is in the U.S.
In an episode titled “Garlic Breath,” the documentary shows an undercover video of Chinese prisoners peeling garlic in dismal conditions. The work is reportedly so punishing that some workers' fingernails fall off from the harsh labor, and so they're forced to use their teeth to peel the garlic.
The clip caused an uproar when it premiered, in part because the show accuses American garlic producer Christopher Ranch of selling the prisoners' produce under the brand Golden Lion. A representative for Christopher Ranch told Cheapism that Golden Lion has never been a subsidiary of the garlic producer.
In the wake of the documentary release, Christopher Ranch’s manager Ken Christopher came out against the film, describing the documentary as a “hit piece.”
“We source a limited amount of Chinese garlic from a US-based firm, Harmoni, and have found them to be a dependable supplier,” Christopher said in 2018. “We were aware of some allegations surrounding their labor practices last year, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigated and cleared them of any wrongdoing.”
The Financial Times reports that Customs and Border Patrol seized Harmoni’s shipments of garlic in December 2017 and January 2017 but reversed its decision after receiving documentation about Harmoni’s supply chain. Despite Christopher Ranch's pushback, the documentary's producer stood behind the show's reporting.
Today, 100% of Christopher Ranch-brand garlic is now sourced from U.S. farmers, according to the company’s website.
So should you buy pre-peeled garlic? From a culinary perspective, home chefs say there's no issue. But if you do decide to go with the more convenient option, it's worth ensuring that the garlic is peeled and processed domestically.
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Editor's note: This article has been revised since publication to clarify that Golden Lion is not a subsidiary of Christopher Ranch.