So what exactly is black garlic…? The origins of black garlic are somewhat uncertain and a bit shrouded in mystery. Some sources trace it back to ancient China, others to ancient Egypt. A Korean inventor touted that he developed this “super food” as recently as 2004. There are also claims from Japanese and Korean families that they have been using black garlic for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. It’s likely these are all plausible origin stories, and that black garlic has simply been “rediscovered” independently multiple times throughout history.
Simply put, black garlic is the product of aging regular garlic bulbs over the course of several weeks. It requires strictly regulated temperature and humidity to achieve its soft, sticky consistency, but nothing is added to the garlic in the process. While the process of making black garlic is often misunderstood as ‘fermenting’, it’s actually a microbial breakdown process called the Maillard Reaction, a common chemical reaction involving sugars. The result is cloves that are inky black in colour – a little like black jelly beans in appearance and texture, and very “spreadable”.
The taste, the sweet, earthy, umami taste, is what’s most intriguing about black garlic. Almost uncategorizable, there’s a wonderful fusion of flavours… molasses, balsamic vinegar and liquorice, perhaps port wine, maybe a dash of Worcestershire sauce. There is of course a hint of garlic as well, minus the characteristic heat. Think of it as garlic’s umami-packed shadow. By the way, for the health-conscious out there, black garlic is said to have twice the antioxidants of regular garlic, is great for the immune system, fights cold viruses and even helps your digestive tract. Oh, and all this with no “garlic” breath!
Black garlic is highly sought after by in-the-know chefs and home cooks alike, who use it in a variety of ways. It can be eaten alone, on bread, or used in soups, sauces, crushed into a mayonnaise or simply tossed into a vegetable dish. It’s a beautiful addition to any cheese plate, bruschetta, chicken dishes, or even as a pizza topper. It also gives that extra something to a homemade vinaigrette. In short, a wonderfully versatile and flavourful ingredient!