Snoping Snopes

It recently has come to my attention that an article I wrote about imported garlic was snoped. I guess that means that it has gotten enough readership to draw some attention, which is good, but after reading the snope I feel the need to defend my original article in this blog post. I am disappointed to say I tried to post this in comments on their site and was blocked which reduces my respect for snope, a group I have always considered a reputable source for information.

To Snope: I appreciate you calling attention to an error in my blog post about Chinese garlic. I should have clarified that removal of all root mass does not mean garlic is from China, but it does suggest that the product is IMPORTED garlic, and the majority of garlic imported into this country is from China. I have changed the content of my article to clarify this.

In your snope you state that the garlic shown in the Christopher Ranch marketing photo has all of the roots removed, proving your point that American garlic can have the roots removed also. I contacted Christopher Ranch about the photo,and they told me they did not make the photo. It was made by ANUK ( a video newsletter for the produce industry) and may in fact be Chinese garlic.

In another part of your snope, you quote my conversation with the representative from Christopher Ranch saying that American growers don’t pay to completely remove ALL of the root material from garlic. You then show several Farmer’s Market examples of garlic with the “roots removed”. However when I look at some of your photos, I see garlic with root material still on some of the heads. Some roots are just clipped very short, not completely reamed of all root material as in my example of typical Chinese garlic (the bottom of the head will be completely white when all root material is removed). Large American commercial growers will snip the roots close to the base, but will not ream them out as shown in my photograph.  I grow and prepare my own garlic, including some for sale at the Farmer’s market, and can tell you that to get the bottom to look like my imported garlic example is very time consuming. But yes, you are correct, a few small Farmer’s Market growers may on occasion process garlic that way.

With regard to your comment on theories as to why the root mass is removed from imported garlic, I feel well supported in my statement that it is to remove all soil from the product. While the US regulations are hard to find on the internet, they do require imported garlic from China to meet phytosanitary standards certified by the exporting country. I could not find the US or China phytosanitary standards for garlic online but I could find them for Canada and they clearly state that no soil can be present on garlic imported to Canada from any country except the US. The only way to completely remove all soil from a garlic head is to completely remove the entire root mass from the head as shown in my example.

With regard to the contamination of Chinese garlic issue (I will not address the picture of pesticide spraying as that is not from my blog post) I call your attention to an extensive report from the USDA addressing food safety issues associated with all imported foods from China including information on contamination of garlic.

I further call your attention to the fact that the majority of garlic imported into the US is imported from China, and the US garlic industry no longer exports much product due to Chinese competition.

From the above facts one can then infer the following: Canada, and possibly other countries will not accept any garlic with root mass containing soil for import. If a grower is planning to export garlic, they will need to meet the strictest standards of countries accepting imports and this means removing all soil from the bulb of their products. The only way to remove all soil from garlic is to completely remove all root mass from the bottom of the bulb, leaving the bottom white and denuded of all stubble. This process is very labor intensive and thus expensive and not required for sale in the country of origin. Thus heads of garlic with every bit of root stubble removed are highly likely to be imported garlic from China.

I appreciate the work you do in promoting truth and accountability on the internet. As a Registered Dietitian, I try to fully research any nutrition or food related topic I write about. In this case, the rather nuanced nature of a complicated topic requires a high level of research and even then may be open to interpretation. I do stand behind my original thesis which is this:

When shopping for garlic, if one sees heads of garlic displayed in which every head of garlic has all stubble and root material removed from the bottom (essentially a white bottom) that garlic is probably imported. And most imported garlic is from China. Therefore, there is a high probability that garlic is from China. And garlic from China has a high probability of being contaminated with pesticide and/or bacterial residues.

I agree fully with your final comment that the best way to know the source of your garlic is to buy it directly from a farmer, through a Farmer’s Market or CSA, or to grow your own.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any content in the article without the written persmission of the author is prohibited.

Making Lye Cured Olives



We harvested our olives this week, and followed the usual tradition of picking the best olives for preserving and the rest for pressing into olive oil. The majority of the olives we grow are Sevillano olives, which are perfect for preserving using a traditional lye cure, or for making Spanish style fermented olives. They can also be cured using a water extraction process, which I explained in another post several years ago.

Curing olives leaches out the bitter compounds that make the raw olives inedible. These bitter phenolic compounds are more concentrated in green olives and decrease as the olives mature. The phenols in olives give the “peppery bite” found in many high quality extra virgin olive oils and are the primary source of the many health benefits attributed to olive oil including reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, inflammatory disease and Alzheimer’s.

We definitely like some bitterness in our olive oil, and thus prefer to harvest and press our olives green. A touch of bitterness in brined fermented olives is fine too, but all olives require leaching of the majority of bitter compounds prior to consumption, and in green olives treatment with lye is the most rapid and effective way to do this. The traditional black olives most Americans grew up eating are green lye cured olives that are then treated with iron and an oxidation process to create a black olive. Green lye cured olives have the familiar mild olive flavor that most of us grew up with. They are also like a blank slate that can then be jazzed up with a variety of flavorings depending upon your preferences.

The University of California guide to preserving olives is a dependable resource for making a variety of olives. Over the years we have tried many of their recipes, but the lye cured olives are always the most popular. The recipe in their guide along with these visuals will guide you on the steps in the process.

The first step is the olive harvest. For preserved olives, harvest carefully to prevent bruising of the fruit.


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The 2015 Olive Harvest

Olives for oil are stripped from the trees onto cloths placed on the orchard floor. For preserved olives picking by hand and gently placing into a collection vessel will lessen the risk of bruising. On occasion I have picked through the “oil olives” after harvest looking for the nicest fruit and preserved those but I examine them carefully to avoid bruised olives.

You also should inspect the olive carefully for any spots which might indicate the presence of the olive fly. Do not preserve the fruit with spots.olives-with-flyw


Olives with olive fly damage. Each of these has a spot from the fly and are unacceptable for making preserved olives but can be used for olive oil.

If you have any doubts about whether the spots you see on your olives are from olive fly, cut them open and examine them. Often the damage on the inside is much worse than what might appear on the exterior.

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Olive fly damage inside the olive

If you are harvesting olives from trees that have been neglected it may be difficult to find any olives that are acceptable. We prune yearly and spray our olives several times with an organic kaolin clay compound (brand name Surround) to discourage the moths. Even with all this care, most of our olives have damage on them.

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Basket of carefully selected Sevillano Olives ready to cure

Once you harvest the olives you should treat them soon, preferably within 24 hours. Don’t chill the olives, just store them at cool room temperature until you begin processing.

The lye that is used to cure olives might be sold as a product for making soap, or as a drain cleaner. It sounds scary, as in strong concentrations it is a caustic base which can burn you if splashed on your skin or swallowed. But lye is used in a variety of processed food products that you might routinely eat, including hominy, soft baked pretzels and peeled mandarin oranges. It is even on the list of substances allowed in organic food production. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is a compound that is only harmful when in a very high concentration. Just as the acid you might add to your pool can burn you when taken straight, but can be completely safe to swim in when diluted, so the caustic base of lye can burn you when concentrated but when diluted is not harmful. When your olives are made properly, the residual amount of lye in the final product should be negligible.

Find a source of lye that is 100 percent lye. I found this lye at a local hardware store.


100 percent lye sold as drain cleaner

Read the directions on using lye in the UC guide for making olives carefully prior to beginning the lye curing process. It is very important that you read these precautions as exposure to concentrated lye can cause burns to the skin or blindness if splashed in the eyes. Remember to always protect your hands with gloves and your eyes with goggles before beginning to work with the lye solution. Be gentle during the process so you don’t splash the liquid, and don’t worry. I am uncoordinated but have been doing this for years and have never splashed it on myself.

Fill a food safe plastic bucket or other lye resistant container with enough water to cover your olives completely. I had about 3 gallons of olives, and I used 3 gallons of water. Add 3 Tablespoons of the powdered lye to each gallon of water. For this 3 gallons I used 9 Tablespoons of lye. Do not add water to lye, you should only add lye to water. Stir gently to dissolve the lye.

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Adding lye gently to the water.  Notice the eye and hand protection. Long sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes are recommended, and goggles are preferred over glasses too so I was somewhat negligent here! mixing-lye-and-waterw

Stir to dissolve lye in the water

Once all the lye has been added the temperature of the liquid might warm up. Check the temperature with a thermometer, and don’t add the olives until it has cooled down to cool room temperature (below 70 degrees).

Now carefull add the olives to the lye bath, again gently to avoid splashing. I put them in a glass measuring cup, then gradually tipped the cup to pour them into the solution.adding-olives-to-the-lye-bucketw

 Gently add olives to the lye bath

The olives must be protected from contact with air as this will cause discoloration. Cover the top of the olives in the bucket with a wet dish cloth. Then place a plate, a bowl or something else (I used a strainer) on top of the cloth to hold them under the liquid.

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A wet towel is used to hold the olives under the lye solution while curing. Put a plate or bowl or strainer on the cloth to hold the olives under.

The UC guide says to stir the olives every few hours while curing, but I only stirred them once and they seemed to cure well.

The olives are finished curing when one of the larger olives is removed from the water, rinsed and cut and the cure has softened the olive and turned the flesh green all the way to the pit. testing-lye-penetrationwThis olive is not fully cured. Note the white ring close to the pit. Cure the batch longer if your test olive looks like this.

Usually after about 12 hours my Sevillano olives are ready. Sometimes theoretically the olives may require a separate new lye cure but that has never been my experience. You can read more about that in the UC Guide.

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When the olives have been cured, you will note the lye bath has become very dark from all the compounds leached from the olives.

Once the test olive has been adequately penetrated by the lye, your lye cure is finished. You must now remove the lye from the olives. First drain the liquid from the olives by pouring them into a large strainer or colander. It is safe to pour the lye solution down the drain at this time. Return the olives to the bucket, cover the olives well with cool water, then drain them and rinse them in the strainer several times to rinse off the surface lye. During this whole process you should still be careful about avoiding any contact of the lye with your skin or eyes. Once they are rinsed the residual lye is no longer concentrated enough to be caustic.

You now will begin the process of soaking and rinsing several times per day to gradually remove the lye from the olives. Put the olives back in the bucket, cover them with water, put a clean wet cloth over the top, and let them soak for a few hours. Rinse off the water in the strainer or colander and repeat this process several times per day for at least 3 days. This process leaches the lye from the olives. The water should be completely free of any color when the olives have been adequately cleaned of the lye. The olives will no longer feel soapy or slippery. At this point you can taste an olive and should not note any soapiness or lye residue. 

Congratulations, you have successfully lye cured your olives!  Your olives are now a blank slate for flavoring. There are so many ways to flavor these plain olives. To eat some in the next few days, flavor them with a simple marinade. A good starting marinade can be made with 1 quart of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar, several sliced cloves of garlic, and some hot pepper slices or flakes to taste. For some variety, rosemary, thyme or bay leaves can be added to the brine or 1/4 cup of lemon juice can replace the vinegar, and sliced lemon rind can be added. The olives are usually ready to eat after 24 hours of soaking in the marinade.


 Marinated olives with lemon, garlic and hot peppers

Olives you are not planning to eat in the next few days must be preserved for long-term storage. Preservation requires either salt or vinegar brine and refrigeration. I prefer salt as it is easier to remove with soaking and leaves me with a bland olive to flavor later.

Salt brining for storage is a multiple step process. First make a lighter brine using 3/4 cup salt per gallon of water. Soak the drained olives in this brine for about 1 week. Then drain the olives and soak them in a stronger brine of 1 1/2 cups of salt per gallon of water for 10-12 days, Now drain them again and store them in the final freshly made brine of 1 1/2 cups salt per gallon of water. Store the olives in the refrigerator int he brine and use them within 2 months. I consider the olives a seasonal treat to enjoy over the holiday season and usually finish them by New Years Day.

Home cured olives in strong salt brine ready for the holidays! 

Don’t forget to plan ahead when you want to eat these olives because they are salty! A day or two before you want to eat some olives, soak them in water in the refrigerator to remove the salt.  You can then eat them plain or flavor them by soaking in the marinade discussed previously.


© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any content in the article without the written persmission of the author is prohibited.

Canning Lessons

For a large part of my lifetime, canning looked to be a lost art. With the easy and inexpensive proliferation of processed foods and the emphasis on the (sometimes incorrect) nutritional benefits of fresh over frozen over canned, the need for learning this once essential skill had faded. As a gardener with a large fruit orchard, I have always felt a need to can as a means of preserving the bounty when my freezer gets filled beyond its limits. On occasion, it has become more than that, almost an obsession, and the line between enthusiastic canner and prepper becomes blurred.


Is this the pantry of an enthusiastic home preserver, a prepper, a hoarder?

I plead guilty to all charges.

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in lost homestead arts, and canning is among them. Manufacturers of canning jars (Ball and Kerr are the two most commonly seen brands) have seen an upturn in sales of their products over the last few years. While once uncommon, supermarket magazine shelves now carry a variety of magazines or quarterlies devoted to canning. And of course, the internet is loaded with thousands of food bloggers displaying “food porn” pictures of their beautiful array of home preserved foods.

In the age of the internet, any person with a PC, even those with minimal knowledge of safe food preservation practices, can post recipes for canned foods. At a recent conference I attended, for example, one canning specialist noted that over 1/3 of Americans who can are using recipes for canned tomatoes that are deemed unsafe by the USDA. Tomatoes can be a low acid product, and if one does not add a source of acid prior to water bath canning them, there can be a risk (though slight) of botulism contamination. Botulism is a deadly toxin, and even if the probability is low, the risk when it might occur is unacceptably high.

For readers interested in taking the leap into home canning, I encourage you to connect with the Master Food Preservers in your area. The Master Food Preservers are taught a curriculum of safe food preservation developed in association with the University of California. I was excited to see that the Sacramento Master Food Preservers are offering classes in our area. They even have a class tomorrow night, and the cost is only 5 dollars, so I rushed to write this post to promote that class. If you are able to find the time, and are interested in becoming an expert in home food preservation, you can even sign up to take the full course to become a Master Food Preserver yourself.

Online resources for safe home food preservation are those associated with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the University of California (I am using a UC publication for making olives today!) and the canning jar company Ball. If you buy a pressure or water bath canner, they also typically come with a booklet containing directions and recipes.

As we become more aware of the benefits of eating locally grown, in season foods, the benefits of home food preservation for extending the seasons become clear. I urge you to give home canning a try. It is a simple process, it saves money, it is great for the environment (less trash from packaging, less refrigeration costs) and the rewards of looking a shelf of beautiful foods you have preserved yourself are priceless.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.