If you opened a bulb of garlic and the cloves looked like they do above, would you be worried? You can ease your mind as there is nothing wrong with this garlic. It is neither burned, diseased, rotted or spoiled. In fact, it is exactly the color it should be as it is Black Garlic, a hot new ingredient that is just starting to spread across the U.S. It has received plenty of recent attention and has been shown on television shows like Iron Chef and Top Chef. Discussions of this intriguing ingredient have also spread quickly across many food blogs.
I recently received some samples of black garlic from Black Garlic Inc., the only company in the U.S. currently producing it. The black garlic can be purchased online from Mondo Food, either as a 1.26 oz package ($3.30) containing two bulbs, or a 1 pound bag ($20) containing about 16 bulbs. I think this is a reasonable price for what you receive.
Black garlic is regular garlic that has undergone a special fermentation process which turns it a black color. Plus, the garlic becomes sweet with more muted garlic flavors. It seems almost like a soft, jelly-like piece of fruit. It is alleged that black garlic provides special health benefits, though I have been unable to locate any supporting medical evidence. Black garlic is supposed to have nearly twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic. Plus, it contains S-Allycysteine, which is supposed to help cancer prevention and fight cholesterol. Regular garlic does not contain S-Allycysteine.
Scott Kim, the CEO and inventor of Black Garlic Inc., began to create his product in South Korea in 2004. Black garlic is supposed to have a lengthy history in Korea and China. Scott eventually brought into the company John Yi, a longtime garlic producer. As to the secret as how black garlic is made, the company's website is vague, stating only the following: "It’s aged for a month in a special fermentation process under high heat, where it develops its darker color, softer texture, and sweeter taste."
I did a little investigation, seeking more information about the fermentation process. At the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, I uncovered only a single patent application dealing with black garlic though it is unclear whether it involves Black Garlic, Inc. or not. Nonetheless, it provides a look into how black garlic may be created. The inventors are listed as Gyu-Bae Han, Inn-Hwan Song and Ki-Yeol Eom, all from Korea. The method involves aging the garlic with hot air for 14.5 days, then naturally drying the garlic pieces for about 40 hours, and then aging it again with hot air for another 30 to 50 hours. This process may be similar to what is used at Black Garlic, Inc.
So how does black garlic taste? My first foray with black garlic is pictured above. It is a panko-crusted tilapia with a black garlic sauce atop thin egg noodles. The sauce had butter, Sake, olive oil, teriyaki sauce and black garlic. It was quite good, the garlic adding a nice sweetness to the dish, complementing the flavor of the moist, white fish. Though there is an underlying garlic flavor, it is more subtle than what you get with regular garlic. And your breath does not take on the usual garlic smell either.
I also had a black garlic butter, smeared on some French bread which was briefly baked in the oven. Though it looks like it is burnt, it is not. It is just the black color of the garlic. This was not too bad but I think a better recipe for the butter could be created. It did add an interesting sweetness to the bread, though maybe a bit of spice or some herbs could have been added to balance off that sweetness. Plus, it does not look too appealing as is, looking too much like burnt bread.
I think black garlic is a versatile ingredient, which can be used in a wide variety of recipes. It will add a bit of sweetness to your receipes, but still with some garlic flavor. I'll be conducting some more culinary tests with the black garlic, trying different recipes, and I'll report back in the near future. I am initially very pleased with the black garlic and believe it has lots of potential.