Can Black Garlic Make You Sick?


Most of us may have already encountered the questions: "Does garlic make you sick?” and “Can garlic with sprouts make you sick?" But seldom would you encounter the question: “Can black garlic make you sick?” In fact, not many people are even aware of the existence of black garlic and even fewer have seen or tasted it.

If someone would have asked me what black garlic was a few months ago, I would have scratched my head in utter ignorance! And, to be honest, the first impression I got when I heard “black garlic” was of something rotten.

Can Black Garlic make you sick

But the question of whether black garlic (BG) can make you sick is an imprecise one. It needs to be qualified. We’ll do that as soon as we answer the question “What is black garlic? for anyone who might not know.

How is Black Garlic Different from Fresh Garlic?

If you are unaware of the existence of black garlic, you might guess that is one of the subspecies of garlic (allium sativum). But it is not! While different from fresh garlic , it is garlic itself, and it is garlic that has been aged. Its color has turned into a dark color; it appears somewhat black.

But how does it get its dark color?

It becomes dark when the whole bulb of garlic has been heated over a period of several weeks. Its dark-colored cloves are sweet and syrupy-tasting with a tinge of tamarind or balsamic vinegar taste.

At present, the popularity of black garlic has greatly spread from Asia to other parts of the world, and now to the U.S. where it is utilized in both high-end and home cuisine as an important ingredient.

How to Produce Black Garlic

Black garlic is not naturally dark-colored; it browns under highly specialized conditions of humidity and heat. This process is called “aging” or “fermentation.” In this process, the bulbs are placed in an environment with temperatures that usually range from 140 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (60 - 77ºC) for a period of 60 days to 90 days. This process does not require additives, the burning of bulbs, or the use of preservatives.

Garlic has enzymes that give it its sharpness. These enzymes break down during the aging process. This breaking down of the enzymes, together with the controlled factors of fermentation, facilitate the process of turning the white garlic’s cloves to a dark color. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction. The cloves of the garlic turn black and begin to have a gooey-like or sticky texture, similar to the “stickiness” of dates.

Another factor that contributes to this aging process is the fungal bacteria called endophytes that are known to cause fermentation and are capable of resisting heat. These fungal bacteria are identified by bacteriologists as commonly present in both black garlic and fresh garlic. Additionally, these endophytes are considered as partly responsible for the browning of garlic.

So, now that we know what black garlic is and how it is made, we can more easily address the question of whether black garlic can make a person sick or not.

Can Black Garlic Make a Person Sick?

The answer to this question is “It depends.” First, does the person asking this question mean too much or the recommended amount of black garlic? Second, does black garlic produce allergic reactions?

Black garlic, however, cannot make you sick just from the fermentation process. As long as you ferment garlic properly or buy it from someone who used sanitary practices in producing their black garlic, it will be safe for the normal person to eat as much as they would want.

Too Much Black Garlic?

But the first question, of course, requires finding the normal amount of black garlic a person can take daily without necessarily causing any adverse effect on one’s health. There is an obvious difficulty in determining this recommended dosage because there is a scarcity of studies on black garlic. But with ordinary garlic, the recommended daily dosage for a normal person is 2 to 5 grams if it is fresh, and 0.4 to 1.2 grams if it is dried into garlic powder.

It is self-explanatory, though, that anything that is too much is dangerous to one’s health. This also applies to the consumption of black garlic. Supposing BG is healthy to the body at a recommended dosage, it would surely be unhealthy if you take too much of it daily.

With regards to higher than the recommended dosage of black garlic, it is not advisable to take a high amount of black garlic if you are taking anticoagulant medications as it can lead to a greater risk of bleeding. Because garlic is known to interact with antiplatelets, warfarin, calcium channel blockers, antihypertensives, antibiotics in the quinolone family, and hypoglycemic drugs, black garlic may also do the same.

Can a Person Have Allergic Reactions to Garlic or Black Garlic?

People can be allergic to garlic. And if you have allergies with garlic, it is only natural that you would also feel allergic reactions when you eat black garlic. The majority of the chemical constituents of garlic are still retained when the garlic is aged and turned into BG. The chemicals that bothered you in garlic will probably still bother you in black garlic.

Some allergic reactions to garlic include irritable bowel, mouth ulcerations, throat ulcerations, breathing difficulties, and nausea. In some other very rare cases, a person who is allergic to garlic may experience anaphylaxis. Most persons who are allergic to garlic also manifest sensitivity to allyphopyldisulfide and allicin. which are both present in regular garlic and black garlic. So, the abovementioned allergies to garlic may also be manifest if you were to consume black garlic because both have a similar makeup.

Another factor that you need to consider when eating black garlic, aside from the allergic reactions, is its long-term side effects. At present, however, no long-term side effects have been properly documented on the use of black garlic, and no FDA-approved study has been conducted on this subject matter. Some potential long-term side effects of BG may include profuse sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal discomfort, menstrual irregularities, and bleeding.

Are the Chemical Constituents of Garlic Altered when it is Aged?

This question is critical to completely answering the question of whether black garlic can make a person sick. There have been quite a few general studies about black garlic, and we are fortunate to know the results of those studies. The most comprehensive studies on black garlic, however, were done mostly in Asia by Shensuke Kimura, Yen-chen Tung, Nan-Wei Su, Ying-Jang Lai, and Kuan-Chen Cheng. These studies were funded by the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration.

The key to the answer to the abovementioned question of whether black garlic can make you sick lies in the comparative analysis of the chemical constituents of both garlic and black garlic. So, let us give you a brief comparative analysis in the following paragraphs along with an explanation of how certain substances affect your health.

Allicin Contents of Garlic and Black Garlic

Compared with garlic, BG doesn't have a strong flavor because it loses some of its allicin content during the aging process. The allicin content is the sulfur compounds found in fresh garlic. Some of the allicin content is readily converted into important antioxidant compounds like flavonoids and alkaloids during the fermentation process into black garlic. These changes make the black garlic's more enhanced bioactivity possible. That means that black garlic has an enhanced antioxidant level as well as antiallergic, anti-inflammation, anticarcinogenic, and anti-diabetes functions.

Contents of Garlic and Black Garlic Comparison

Fresh garlic generally contains around 63% water and 28% carbohydrates called fructans. It also contains 2.3% organosulfur compounds (allinase) and 1.2% amino acids (arginine). It constitutes 1.5% fiber. It also has high-level of γ-glutamylcysteines. The γ-glutamylcysteines are readily converted into SAC. This SAC contributes to the many health benefits of garlic, such as its antioxidant, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory activities.

During the aging process, however, some chemical compounds of fresh garlic are converted into Amadori/Heyns compounds, which are key to the Maillard reaction. It is right to say, therefore, that BG compounds are much more complicated than those of fresh garlic. Their qualities likewise usually depend on the aging process. The higher the temperature, for example, the faster the aging process. But this also may result in less enhanced properties of compounds. The good news, however, is that black garlic has more functionally healthy compounds as compared to those of fresh garlic, and the optimization of these compounds all depends on how the process of aging has been accomplished. During the thermal processing or aging process, amino acids, water-soluble sugars, flavonoids, and polyphenols either decrease or increase in amount. The Amadori and Heyns compounds, however, always increase. The amount of fructans, on the other hand, always decrease.

The Critical Factor in the Health Effects of BG

It is easy to see that BG has more functional health benefits to a person than that of fresh garlic according to several studies. It is an accepted fact, however, that garlic is one of the safest herbal medicines a person can ever take. But based on some studies, the healthful benefits of garlic are further enhanced once the garlic has undergone the correct aging process. The crucial element, however, in the maximization of these healthful effects lies on how the aging process has been done. So, those who age or ferment garlic should find the right timing and temperature and strike a balance between the length of the aging process and the temperature used to age the cloves of garlic. This means that a more efficient and systematic process for producing black garlic should be established to standardize the aging process of BG.

Can BG Really Make a Person Sick?

There are strong pieces of evidence that indicate that black garlic can make you healthy instead of making you sick in any way. In fact, the pieces of evidences are so strong to convincingly support the idea that black garlic is more potent as a health supplement than fresh garlic. There is no denying that the healthful effects of garlic have been doubly increased in black garlic as evidenced by several studies on the chemical constituents of black garlic. As mentioned earlier, BG has more functionally healthy compounds compared to those of fresh garlic.

Its antioxidant activity, for example, has been greatly enhanced over regular garlic. Its anticarcinogenic property has been greatly increased likewise. With regards to anti-obesity activity, studies indicate that there is increased anti-obesity activity with black garlic. The immunomodulatory functions of the BG are also enhanced; similarly, the reduction of blood lipid has also been observed with the regular consumption of BG. Lastly, black garlic has also been found to improve memory and the functions of the nervous system. Hence, it is not superfluous to say that the answer to the abovementioned question on whether BG can make you sick is a big “NO.”

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