Garlic Goes to the Dark Side: Everything You Need to Know About Black Garlic

Color isn't the only thing that separates this unusual ingredient from the typical white cloves. Here's how to incorporate it into your meals with delicious, umami-heavy results.

Black garlic
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You may have seen bags of black garlic in the produce aisle at Trader Joe's or your local specialty grocery shore. In a nutshell, black garlic is regular garlic that has been fermented slowly for a few weeks, usually under high-humidity conditions, and then dried. The process gives the garlic a dark hue and sticky texture, while removing the classic sharp flavor and replacing it with something more nuanced and mellow: tasters have compared it to tastes like licorice, soy sauce and molasses. (Check out our 4 Tips for How to Cook With Garlic.)

It's generally assumed that black garlic originated in Asia (some say it's a centuries-old cooking staple there), but experts don't fully agree on its origins. It's available in countries like Japan, Thailand and Korea, where it's also used in energy drinks.

Black garlic has become more popular with American home cooks in the last decade or so. It was in the mid-2000s that entrepreneur Scott Kim began using his now-patented machines to gently heat and ferment garlic, and he established Black Garlic, Inc. in California. Other purveyors now include Black Garlic North America and Texas Black Gold Garlic. U.S. chefs have raved about it, and black garlic has been served in restaurants like Le Bernardin in New York City, Bar Tartine in San Francisco and many more.

Where to Find Black Garlic

Although a search for "how to make black garlic" will yield about 300 million search results, a faster and less stinky way to get your hands on some is to buy a bag or jar of ready-to-go cloves, either in the produce aisle of your grocery store or online. Some companies also sell black garlic paste and black garlic powder. (Love cooking with garlic? Check out these Healthy Garlic Recipes.)

Black Garlic Health Benefits

All garlic has many health benefits: It contains high amounts of vitamin C and thiamin, as well as sulfur compounds, which have been studied for their ability to help guard against certain cancers, including stomach and colorectal. Garlic is also believed to help boost immunity and to have anti-inflammatory properties that may help protect against disease. But what about black garlic specifically? A 2013 study in the Journal of Functional Foods also showed that due to the heating process, black garlic contains higher levels of antioxidants (specifically free-radical–fighting phenolic acids and flavonoids) than regular garlic.

How to Cook with Black Garlic

Thanks to its distinctive umami flavor, black garlic is versatile and fun for culinary experiments. EatingWell Test Kitchen Manager Breana Killeen, M.P.H., R.D., suggests using black garlic in place of the regular variety "anytime you want a slightly smokier, mellower garlic flavor."

Black garlic is easy to incorporate into a variety of different cuisines, and it can bring a new dimension to a neutral-tasting recipe such as mayonnaise or cream sauce. "Since the flavor is sort of smoky, sweet and sour, I like to use it in salad dressings, mashed into mayonnaise for aioli, blended into olive oil alongside anchovies for pastas, and in Asian stir-fries," says Killeen. Because of its mellow flavor, black garlic can easily be subbed for roasted garlic too. Try it in a Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Buttermilk recipe or in this Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce. Note that in recipes calling for roasted garlic, you can skip the actual roasting step, since black garlic has already been heated.

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