Garlic growers have to find creative ways to preserve their harvest. If left in a warm, humid environment for a few weeks, the pungent bulbs turn inky black. Despite appearances, the yield isn’t spoiled. This savory iteration is simply called “black garlic.”
By placing garlic in particular conditions, farmers induce the Maillard reaction—a chemical process responsible for the umami taste of seared meat. The bulb’s innards take on a sticky, jellied texture. As the enzymes that impart its characteristic sharpness break down, the garlic also develops sweet, savory, and earthy qualities. Tasters liken the flavor to deep, caramelized, aged balsamic.
The shadowy ingredient has a long history as a health food in Korea. In Japan, ramen chefs use black garlic oil to add an umami kick to steaming broth. Italian restaurants also feature the savory bulb in spreads, in dressings, or as an accoutrement for meat and seafood. Cooks sometimes dry and powder the cloves into a savory sprinkle that enhances dishes, akin to MSG. At-home chefs can create their own black garlic, too. Setting the rice cooker to “warm” will create an optimal environment, as long as you’re willing to wait for a couple weeks.
Where to Try It
This NYC hotspot restaurant pairs Angus skirt steak with black garlic. Hillary and Bill Clinton have been spotted here on multiple occasions.
Chef is Shota Nakajima uses black garlic in an unusual clam chowder.