What is Black Garlic?


Black garlic is one of the “super foods” or ingredients that many people are talking about right now. I know, the name might not suggest it as something awesome to eat, but many people (not just us) swear this is an incredible ingredient for making more healthful and satisfying meals.

What is black garlic and what is it that makes it the delight of so many chefs and cooks? We cover all you need to know about the ingredient as a first-time user in this article.

What is Black Garlic

What is Black Garlic?

Common garlic, of course, is white. So, at the mention of the name “black garlic,” you might have wondered whether this is the garlic you already know or something entirely different. You are right if you thought it's the former.

Black garlic is not another variety of garlic. It is of the same Allium sativum species as the highly popular plant of the onion family. This is only an aged version, resulting from a fermentation process that turns it black.

The cloves of garlic contain amino acids and sugars. When they are subjected to fermentation, these constituents produce a black color.

More precisely, the amino acids and sugars give way to the production of melanoidins in the late stages of processing. These compounds have a dark color and are therefore responsible for the hue of the “black garlic” ingredient.

History of Black Garlic

The history of black garlic is a little clouded at the moment. Many people are just learning about black garlic in the United States. It hit the mainstream around 2008. But it has reportedly been used in Asia for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries.

It is not entirely clear, though, how long black garlic has been around in Asia. Some claim it's been around for many centuries – even millennia – while others say it is a relatively recent invention.

One account says that black garlic was invented in Korea. An inventor from that country claimed this wasn’t some ancient food and that he created it. The Korean said he also had patents for a proprietary process of making it.

The more popular accounts of the origin have it that families from Korea and Japan have been making and using the ingredient for centuries. The Korean’s patent, therefore, is only for his process of fermentation, not for inventing black garlic itself.

People in China and Thailand had also been making use of it for cuisine or medicine before it started getting popular in the U.S.

In Taoist mythology, black garlic is thought to promote long life and grant immortality. Many Thais also use it for its supposed ability to enhance longevity.

Many years ago, a farmer in the UK claimed he made the ingredient using a Korean recipe that was 4,000 years old.

It appears believable that black garlic has been around for a very long time. People are probably now only rediscovering it and spinning it as either an ancient secret or an invention of their own making.

What is the Production Process for Black Garlic?

The process for making black garlic is carefully controlled. It involves the controlled application of humidity and heat for a period of time, which may be weeks or months.

Fresh garlic bulbs are kept in an environment with controlled humidity and at temperatures ranging from about 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually lasts between 30 and 90 days. But there are reports of production process lasting for up to a year.

There are usually no preservatives and additives added when producing black garlic in its most basic form.

The browning of the fresh garlic is thought to be the result of a Maillard reaction and not a caramelization reaction. This chemical process leads to the production of new flavor compounds. It is what gives black garlic its sweet taste with hints of fried onions and seared meat.

An environment with controlled heat and humidity facilitates the Maillard reaction. The enzymes responsible for the distinctive pungent taste of fresh garlic break down in the process.

Researchers have also found bacterial endophytes in the garlic plant. These are said to be highly resistant to heat and capable of promoting fermentation. The belief is that these micro-organisms within the plant tissue are responsible for garlic turning brown.

What Does Black Garlic Taste Like?

Many people are turned off by the strong, pungent taste of regular garlic. That’s why they like the aged variant. The taste of black garlic is very different!

The production process softens and completely alters the natural flavor of the plant. What you get in the end is a sweet, syrupy taste. That’s the wonder time and controlled fermentation can accomplish!

Black garlic is so much more pleasant to the taste than garlic that some people often eat it as a sweet. It has been likened to a sweet tamarind fruit or a somewhat acidic caramel candy. Some enthusiasts even compare the flavor to that of molasses or chocolate.

The surprisingly sweet taste is the result of the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars during the fermentation process.

The duration of the production process is also a factor in the taste of black garlic. And, of course, the particular fresh variant used for making black garlic is a large determinant of its flavor. Fresh garlic with high sugar content will produce an ingredient that tastes much more like caramel.

As a result of the taste, it is not surprising to see people enjoying it raw. But black garlic is also used in a variety of dishes . Some people use it in preparing pastas, pizzas, and potatoes, just to mention a few possibilities. Some people even use it in ice cream!

Interestingly, another benefit of black garlic is that it usually doesn’t produce the breath odor that scares many off the fresh variety.

What are the Nutritional Benefits of Black Garlic?

As you would probably expect, the nutritional values of regular garlic and the black fermented form or garlic are not the same. The fermentation process alters the chemical makeup of the garlic.

With black garlic, you get more sugar and calories. A 35g serving might provide you with about 70 calories and eight grams of sugar. The ingredient has zero fat and no sodium.

However, it is also low in vitamin and minerals. This is generally the case with garlic to begin with. The production process, however, also destroys some of the vitamins. That means that black is not likely going to be a great source of vitamins and minerals for you, especially given that the serving size is usually small.

With that said, you might wonder what the commotion is about black garlic being a healthy person's choice. The health benefit is that it contains properties that can protect you against a wide variety of health issues.

The black garlic ingredient is believed to be richer in antioxidants than the fresh variant. Researchers say it contains about double the number of antioxidants.

You must have heard how free radicals can cause a variety of problems in the body. Perhaps the most dreaded of these free radical disorders is cancer. Black garlic may offer you protection against these conditions due to its antioxidant content.

There is evidence that the aged ingredient may contain more S-Allyl cysteine (SAC) than fresh garlic. The fermentation process causes the unstable compound allicin to be converted into this more stable variant.

SAC, a water-soluble derivative of cysteine, is easier for the body to absorb, making the process faster. Many health benefits have been attributed to SAC. Researchers have found that it could be useful for the treatment of myocardial infarction, diabetes, liver cancer, and prostate cancer.

With many people suffering from some form of diabetes or cancer these days, it is easy to see why super foods such as this are gaining ground.

How Long Can You Safely Store Black Garlic?

Black garlic is usually packaged in containers at the end of the production process. This helps to prolong its shelf life.

The length of time you can safely store the ingredient depends to a great extent on the manufacturing process. The method of production can differ, depending on each manufacturer. Of course, you don’t need to depend on a commercial grower or producer. You can make black garlic at home yourself!

The purpose for which black garlic is being made may also influence the process. If you get a good product, you can store the ingredient for up to six months at room temperature.

The efficiency of the chosen storage method is also a determinant. There are reports of black garlic remaining safe for up to eight months after production when stored in air-tight containers. In fact, the amino acid derivative SAC present in it has been found to remain stable for as long as two years.

Where to Buy Black Garlic

Black garlic is not as easy to get as your everyday items. It has a seasonal dimension to it and you may not easily find it at a local grocery store. The more appropriate places to look locally will be specialty spice stores.

You might find it easier to get online, especially via retail platforms such as Amazon.

Black garlic is available in a variety of forms. You can get the whole heads or peeled cloves. Some also have it in powder form.

As mentioned above, there is the option of making the ingredient at home as well if you can handle the garlic odor during the production process. Once you can get yourself some fresh garlic, the procedure for making it is not a very tasking one.

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