Black Garlic: An Ancient Korean Superfood, Or Maybe Not

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Black garlic is made by aging regular fresh garlic at high temperatures. If you read up on how to make black garlic, you will often see the aging process referred to as fermentation. Makers of black garlic like to describe it as a fermented product but this is not exactly correct.

Black garlic is stored at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes the sugars in it to change. Basically, it amounts to a very slow roast instead of a true fermentation. The resulting chemical reaction darkens the garlic cloves and alters the flavor profile. Black garlic powder is made by dehydrating the black garlic and then grinding it.

Garlic is not a new phenomenon — everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to the Ancient Chinese used it. It has been a staple in the human diet since antiquity.

According to legend, garlic has also been used medicinally for about as long as it has been considered a food. The popular story is that black garlic was first developed in Korea as a medicine; however, it is also said to be traditional in other parts of Asia as well. Take all of the above with a grain of salt as black garlic has yet another origin story: it may be a modern invention. A Korean inventor claims to have come up with it in the early 2000s.

Whatever the source, black garlic has become a popular ingredient and spice among professional chefs in recent years.

Black garlic

Black garlic powder flavor profile

The fermentation process causes the Maillard reaction, which mellows the garlic flavor and intensifies the umami aspect of the flavor profile. The flavor becomes sweeter and earthier. The Maillard reaction is the same reaction that gives browned alliums their characteristic sweetness. What you have with black garlic is a thoroughly caramelized version of the spice.

Sticky and chewy are two descriptors of whole black garlic’s texture, but powdered black garlic is dry and will usually include anti-clumping agents to keep it from sticking together. As a result, what you have is a loose and free-flowing powder that is similar to regular garlic powder.

Health benefits of black garlic

The notion of garlic as a medicine has been around for a long time and it has some basis in scientific fact. There is not much solid evidence that black garlic is nutritionally superior; however, there are some claims that black garlic powder does provide a range of valuable compounds. Black garlic powder may boost your health with nutrients like:

  • S-aryl cysteine: Some researchers claim that the fermentation process releases the amino s-aryl cysteine in the garlic. S-aryl cysteine is believed to have profound anti-carcinogenic effects.
  • Vitamins: Like raw garlic, black garlic is a good source of vitamin B-6.
  • Antioxidants: Some research has shown that black garlic contains considerably more antioxidants than fresh garlic. Some estimates state that it has double the antioxidant content.

Black garlic’s nutritional content is believed to make it good at treating certain health conditions like:

  • Cancer: The antioxidants in black garlic powder allow it to fight against various types of cancer.
  • Infections: Both raw garlic and the different forms of black garlic are known to have immune system benefits; however, black garlic is believed to have a stronger effect.

Common uses

Black garlic can be used in the same ways that you use fresh garlic. Mince it (or crush it into a paste) to add flavor to salads, dressings, sauces, and meals.

Similarly, black garlic powder is simply garlic powder made from the dried, roasted allium instead of from the dried fresh allium. Use it in the same way that you would use regular garlic powder. It will provide a stronger earthiness and a deeper umami quality but most of the same notes.