One of my favourite treats is black garlic.

The grey, slightly soft black garlic heads don’t look appetizing on the outside. But inside, the bulbs are dark and soft and miraculously sweet.

All I can say is, try it for yourself.

Cato’s Potatoes sell black garlic at the Waikato Farmers’ Markets.

Black garlic is sort of savoury and sweet and a bit earthy at the same time, and not particularly garlicky. It’s rich and subtle, without garlic’s typical kick.

You can see that I’m a bit stuck for words. It’s an x-factor kind of flavour.

Black garlic comes out of South East Asian cuisine. But it’s spreading across the globe. In the last decade high-profile chefs have fallen in love with black garlic. So I suppose it’s now “fusion” food. (If that category still exists.)

In Asian flavour categories black garlic is considered umami – sort of savoury. Miso is another umami food.

What is black garlic?

Black garlic is whole garlic bulbs that have been cooked at a very low temperature for a very long period – up to three months.

It’s a fermented and aged product, according to Shunuske Kimura and a team of researchers in an article in The Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. It’s not caramelization. Amongst other complex chemical equations, the process of transforming fresh garlic to black garlic involves something called a Maillard reaction.

Black garlic is considered a health product in Korea. Dr Kimura and colleagues say black garlic has higher levels of many nutrients than fresh garlic, including antioxidants, and it’s also anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, etc.

But I eat it because it’s delicious.

What to do with black garlic

A small amount of black garlic goes a long way. More isn’t necessarily better, I think. One head will be plenty for four people in an antipasto.

On bread

This is my favourite way.  I just squash a bulb onto a small piece of Volare’s San Francisco sourdough. The sweet garlic and slightly sour bread are a great flavour combination.

With cheese and crackers

Crackers, a slice of Meyer Tasty Gouda (made in Hamilton and you buy it at the Gouda Cheese Shop) and a bulb of black garlic. The black garlic goes with the cheese like a sweet chutney.

In a winter stew

Add a couple of peeled black garlic cloves (or more) to a stew or casserole in a slow cooker. As you might add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

A few more black garlic ideas

Black garlic can also be used to flavour soups, tossed with steamed vegetables, or blended into mayonnaise.

How to store black garlic

It doesn’t last long enough to need storing in my household.

Black garlic can be stored in an airtight container for up to three months. You could also keep it in the fridge, but that’s probably not ideal.

DIY black garlic

If you have an abundant garlic harvest you could make your own black garlic.

You’ll need patience, plus a large rice cooker or a large slow cooker. If you’re going to take it seriously you can get a special fermenting box.

You’ll also need a place to leave it where the strong garlic aroma won’t matter, e.g. a garage.

Put the whole heads of garlic in a cooker. Don’t overcrowd the cooker – make sure there is enough space so the garlic heads don’t touch each other.

Leave on low temperature, 60-77 degC, for 60 to 90 days, until the garlic turns black and has the soft, sticky date-like texture.

Write down the start date so you don’t lose track.

According to this blog, you can eat it after three weeks, but ideally you’d leave it at least 60 days.

Disclosure: I haven’t tried this myself. Apart from the pervasive smell, I’m far too impatient, and I can’t use the cooker for anything else in the meantime.

It’s so much easier to buy Richard Cato’s superb black garlic.

Garlic planting
Planting garlic. Photo by Elizabeth Newton-Jackson.

PS – plant your garlic

It’s not too late to plant garlic. It’s easy to grow. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about how to grow garlic.

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