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Ingredient Profile: Black Garlic

Black garlic bulbs at Whole Foods Market

It’s no secret that there are trends in foods – and one ingredient we’re starting to see on menus more and more frequently is black garlic.

What is black garlic, exactly?

Black garlic is simply fermented white garlic – no other fancy gimmicks or ingredients (and no panic necessary for soy-averse gluten free diets).

It’s possible to make your own by keeping whole heads of garlic in a warm humid environment for 3 to 5 weeks, though this does come with it the environmental downside of leaving your oven on 140C /280F the whole time.

(Plus, “fermenting” and “look it up on the internet” aren’t necessarily good food safety companions.)

With any trendy food comes the inevitable claims of Super Amazing Health Benefits (now with more Omega-3s!), so take from it what you will that it’s meant to have double the amount of antioxidants of non-fermented garlic, and claims it’s a new superfood.

But let’s get down to the good stuff – how does it taste and what do you do with it?

Black garlic cloves take on the texture of roasted garlic (albeit a touch more firm)

First off, you can eat it raw if you’re so inclined. The flavour is incredibly mild and a touch sweet, almost like a firm textured roasted garlic but leaning towards a balsamic vinegar or tamarind tanginess.

General guidance is to cook with it as you would use normal garlic – but beware, the inky colour does transfer so if you didn’t want grey ricotta or eggs you may wish to hold off.

I tried it in two recipes:

– Sliced and mixed with maple, orange zest and pomegranate molasses served over roasted duck breast. The flavour didn’t really stand out and I couldn’t quite figure out what the hype is about (though it does look like the poor man’s truffle).

– Sautéed with shallots in an asparagus risotto. You can see I wasn’t kidding about the colour transfer thing – besides the garlic, the only ingredients are shallots, leeks, asparagus, arborio rice, white wine and clear vegetable stock.

Asparagus risotto with black garlic and leek.

Now I get the hype – and it’s spot on! The flavour of black garlic was very rich and pronounced and I will say it added so much to the dish I didn’t need nearly the level of salt and parmesan I usually sneak into risotto.

(Plus, it had the added benefit of covering up the slightly charred leeks that I meant to caramelize gently.)

Quality & Storage

It’s not the most common product to find so you may not be able to pick and choose when it comes to quality. If you’re going to make it yourself, it’s crucial to start with the highest quality garlic because the fermentation process intensifies flavours.

I was advised to keep it in a paper bag if I would use it within a month, or in the fridge to keep for longer than that.

So, how to find this magic ingredient?

In Vancouver you can find it at both South China Seas Trading Co and Whole Foods Market (Cambie). Rumor has it that it’s available at San Francisco’s Berkeley Bowl as well.

Where have you found black garlic? 

Any tips or discoveries in cooking with it?

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