Smooth and sweet, black garlic is the result of properly aging regular garlic over constant heat. Through the process, it is no longer pungent and crunchy, but instead softens and mellows. Packed with antioxidants, this easy to eat, exotic treat is the perfect addition to a healthy diet.
What is black garlic?
Black garlic begins as regular, white garlic. It is slowly transformed in a low heat environment over the course of several weeks. During that time, the garlic cloves change their color, texture, and flavor. The resulting black cloves were first used in Asian cuisine (attributed specifically to Korea), but they have now become popular all over the world.
Black garlic is also sometimes referred to as aged garlic or aged black garlic.
Is black garlic fermented?
Black garlic is normally said to be fermented over the course of 1-2 months. That said, many argue that the garlic isn't actually fermented at all and that the change in color, flavor, and texture is the result of the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a process that is normally initiated by heat and in which there is a chemical reaction between the amino acids and sugars of food resulting in the browning of that food. You can see the Maillard reaction in action in bread crusts, grilled meats, toasted marshmallows, the crispy outer layer of french fries, etc.
Fermentation is basically the breaking down of one substance into another by microbes such as bacteria or yeasts.
Black garlic is aged in a warm, humid environment, and the normally pungent enzymes of the white garlic are broken down through the process. The breaking down of the garlic takes place over a long period of time (just like many fermented processes) making it different from the more instant Maillard reactions like toasting a marshmallow.
What does that mean?
From what I have researched, I will agree that the browning of the black garlic should be attributed to the Maillard reaction, which is really the main process going on here. Whether or not it can also simultaneously be said to be fermented, I don't know for sure. One, of course, doesn't necessarily have to be independent of the other. I guess what it comes down to is if any microorganisms are involved in the breakdown process or not, but I've also seen it said that the temperatures involved in making black garlic are too high for a true fermentation process to occur.
We're probably just seeing an enzymatic breakdown that is taking place simultaneously with the Maillard reaction.
It is, at the very least, quite similar to a fermentation process, but probably isn't a true fermentation. I guess I'll leave the precise distinction to those who are more knowledgeable about the specifics of each process. (I'm all ears to those who want to comment and give their opinion on the matter.)
Watch how easy it is to make black garlic at home
What does black garlic taste like?
When I tried black garlic for the first time, it really surprised me. I was expecting something strong and pungent like regular garlic, and, instead, found a smooth, sweet treat reminiscent of a balsamic vinegar reduction. The texture also completely changes from something that is slightly crunchy when raw to something that is soft and smooth, but somewhat chewy or even jelly-like. It's hard to describe, but I feel like I'm eating some sort of exotic creamy gummy treat or something whenever I bite into a black garlic clove.
Some people compare black garlic to tamarind. While it isn't as tangy as the tropical fruit, black garlic does have that sort of appearance and texture and it may share some of its flavor profile.
Is black garlic better than white?
Whether or not one is better than the other depends on your goals and is also really a matter of preference. They are quite different and some people are going to favor one over the other. I quite like both of them and would choose one over the other depending on the particular recipe I wanted to make. Sometimes you want the sharp, pungent flavor of raw garlic, sometimes roasted garlic is preferable, and sometimes a recipe can be transformed by the sweet, complex flavor of black garlic.
The nice thing about black garlic is that it is much easier to eat as a stand-alone food than white, raw garlic. So, if you are looking for the health benefits of garlic, but have a hard time taking in enough of it, black garlic is quite pleasant to eat as is. In fact, it can be almost addicting, and you may find yourself wanting to eat several cloves at once.
Is it healthier than white garlic?
Not only is black garlic easier to eat, but it may provide more benefits than eating raw white garlic. While both types of garlic have allicin, black garlic has higher amounts of S-Ally-Cysteine which is easily absorbed by the body and is thought to provide many of garlic's health benefits.
Health benefits of black garlic
Black garlic, like its lighter counterpart, has been shown to have numerous health benefits.
It may be antimicrobial (fighting both bacteria and fungi), help normalize blood sugar, help protect the heart, and may even help defend against cancer. It is also thought to be anti-inflammatory and may help boost your immune system. It may even help with weight loss.
Why Make your own black garlic?
Not only is black garlic delicious and healthy, but it also tends to be on the expensive side. While I can buy several heads of garlic for around a Euro here in Spain, I've never seen a head of black garlic sold for less than 3 Euros, and that was its price on sale.
I have to admit that I really loved black garlic but stopped buying it because it was so expensive. While I would sometimes buy it when I found it on sale, I reserved it as an occasional special treat.
Little did I know that it would be so simple and easy to make my own black garlic at home. I can choose the size of garlic I want and the quality (like if I want to splurge on organic or not- which I, of course, do), and I save a lot of money.
How is black garlic made?
When I first saw black garlic in the supermarkets here a couple of years ago, I was intrigued and wanted to make my own.
Almost immediately I did a search for how to make black garlic at home, but at the time, there wasn't a lot of information about it.
Can you make black garlic in a slow cooker?
Back then, I found somebody who was making it at home in a slow cooker. I don't remember which page it was, nor do I know if it's still up (I couldn't find it when I searched), but I remember that the setup used included a lot of extra equipment that I wasn't sure I wanted to invest in. They used a thermostat hooked up to a switch that would turn the slow cooker on and off to keep the temperature stable. They also constantly checked on the humidity and insulated the slow cooker on the outside.
I was afraid to spend the money on a lot of extras in an attempt to make something that I wasn't even sure would turn out. I was further held back by an article I read that stated that black garlic made at home could never compare to that sold in stores because it was very important to keep the temperature and humidity completely stable and in a very exact environment.
I was tempted to try making black garlic by just placing it in the slow cooker on the warm setting for several weeks, but I was concerned that even at that lowest heat setting, my slow cooker would be too hot. I also couldn't imagine running it for a minimum of 3 weeks. (My slow cooker at the time had pretty high wattage, and electricity here in Spain is quite pricey!)
I will say that I've since seen people who have successfully done just that- made black garlic using the lowest heat settings of their slow cookers. Someday I will probably try it for kicks, using only the “keep warm” setting of mine, but for now, I'm quite happy with my method.
Anyway, I'm not normally one to get scared off from trying to make something, but I have to admit that I was worried that my husband wouldn't be on board with the idea of having my slow cooker running for so many weeks. With high electricity costs here in Spain, I also worried about if I'd actually be saving any money anyway. And what about safety?
So, I put off the idea of making my own black garlic until…
Can you make black garlic in a rice cooker?
With time, more and more people were making black garlic successfully at home and they didn't seem to be complaining about the quality of the homemade versions in comparison with what they were buying in the stores.
The first non-slow cooker option I saw was for making black garlic in a rice cooker.
Again, if you want to try making black garlic in a rice cooker you'll want to avoid the normal cooking settings. Instead, you'll want to use the “keep warm” setting and keep the heads of garlic at that setting for a few weeks. (No matter what method you choose, it's a good idea to start periodically checking on the progress of the garlic after around 10 days to get an idea for the best time to stop.)
Seeing so many people successfully making garlic in numerous appliances gave me new hope! I was ready to give it a try- and just as I had been eyeing another appliance said to be ideal for making black garlic…
Making black garlic in a proofer
Those who enjoy baking their own bread or making lots of ferments at home may be familiar with yet another fun, handy appliance, a proofer.
While I no longer bake bread often (normally avoiding the carbs and gluten), I do love fermenting all sorts of foods. We also love infusing oils using low heat over several days to extract as much as we can from whatever plant or herb we are using.
What is a proofer?
A proofer is a sort of chamber that holds a particular heat and humidity for an extended period of time. It's usually used to hold unbaked bread in the optimum environment for rising. It isn't only handy for the fermentation of bread dough by yeast, though. It can also be the perfect tool for keeping other ferments at ideal temperatures. It would be ideal for making your own yogurt or sauerkraut. Next time I make my own soy sauce, I plan on using our proofer to ensure that I am growing the koji in the specific temperature range that ensures that only the correct fungus is growing (aspergillus oryzae). It's also great for tempering chocolate and can be used as a slow cooker that allows for cooking at a precise temperature. Using it as a slow cooker is great because you can use your own stainless steel pans inside it and don't have to worry about breaking the ceramic insert (nor do you have to worry about the possible toxicity of the ceramic glaze).
The great thing about the proofer I bought is that it uses very little electricity. Unlike my pressure cooker that runs at 1000watts (although, to be fair, using it in “rice cooker mode” at the “keep warm” setting probably wouldn't be using nearly that much), my proofer only uses 200 watts. If it were on 100% of the time, it would consume 0.2kW/hour. Because it normally is only running 30% of the time while maintaining a temperature, though, it really only uses about .06 kW/h, around the same amount as a 60W light bulb. (Remember those?) 😉
Making black garlic in a black garlic fermenter
With the growing popularity of black garlic, more and more people are looking for safe, easy, and cost-effective ways to make their own. So, it isn't surprising that numerous types of black garlic “fermenters” have also made their way onto the market. Black garlic fermenters are small appliances that look like rice cookers, but that are made specifically for making black garlic at home quickly and easily.
Which method should you use for making black garlic?
Slow cooker/Rice cooker
To make black garlic in your slow cooker or rice cooker, use the “keep warm” setting (if your slow cooker has it). If your appliance doesn't have a “keep warm” setting, use the lowest heat setting.
Pros: They are common appliances that many of us already have at home so no need to buy a new appliance that will cost you money and take up space.
Cons: Tends to use more electricity throughout the process, making it less cost-effective with time, especially if you live in an area with expensive electricity. Your slow cooker or rice cooker will be in use for weeks at a time, leaving it unusable for other recipes.
For testing out the process/making black garlic very occasionally, it may be worthwhile starting out with either a slow cooker or rice cooker if you have one before investing in something else.
Black garlic fermenter
Pros: Said to be the quickest method (normally estimating a “fermentation time” of around 12 days). Because it's made specifically for making black garlic, these appliances normally do a pretty good job. They also tend to run pretty economically. This black garlic fermenter quotes using 2.16kW per day which isn't bad, especially considering it can make 20-30 garlic heads at once.
Cons: Because it's made specifically for making black garlic, this appliance isn't really made to do anything else. So, unless you are constantly making black garlic, it can be a waste of money and can take up space unnecessarily. Also, most have a non-stick coating on the insert that goes inside them.
I chose against buying and testing out a black garlic fermenter because I didn't like the fact that I couldn't find any with a stainless steel insert nor did I have room for an appliance only meant for making black garlic.
Pros: Only uses a minimal amount of electricity to keep the temperature stable making it very economical to run. (I calculated 1.4 kW per day for the proofer I use, based on their estimates per hour.) Very good at keeping temperatures stable. The proofer folds up small so it doesn't take up a lot of room when not in use.
Cons: The appliance itself isn't cheap. If you don't make bread or other ferments or won't use it for making yogurt or tempering chocolate, you may end up with an expensive appliance that doesn't get used often.
This is the method I use. We were considering buying a proofer anyway, and I liked the fact that it used the least amount of electricity. I also love the way my proofer folds up small for easy storage. (It's like storing a tray.) I use stainless steel pans that I already owned to house the garlic inside the proofer so I don't have to deal with non-stick coatings.
How to Make Black Garlic at Home
- 12 heads garlic
- If the garlic is fresh from your garden, make sure to clean and trim all garlic heads. If bought from the supermarket, it is likely clean and ready to go.
- Wrap the garlic heads in parchment or freezer paper. Then, to help keep them sealed, you can wrap them again with aluminum foil over the paper.
- Place the wrapped garlic heads inside a stainless steel pot, or into your slow cooker or rice cooker. If using a black garlic fermenter, follow the instructions that came with your particular fermenter.
- If using a proofer, place the stainless steel pot into the proofer and set it to 60ºC/140ºF. If using a rice cooker or slow cooker, cover with the lid and set to "keep warm" setting.
- It's a good idea to mark your starting date somewhere on the outside of your cooking appliance. (Yes, you can see we live a Spanglish lifestyle.) 😉
- After a few weeks, you can begin checking on the garlic. Open a clove to check on the color and texture. You want to keep cooking until the cloves are dark brown to black.If yours are still lighter than that, re-wrap the garlic and cook for several more days/weeks. If you feel that it isn't cooking fast enough, you can slightly increase the temperature, keeping it within the range of 60-75ºC/140-170ºF
- Once finished, you can remove the garlic and store wrapped, or you can peel the cloves and store them peeled in a sealed container.
How much black garlic should you eat?
I've seen the suggested dosage for general well-being be anywhere from around 2g per day to just over 10g daily. A clove of black garlic can normally weight somewhere between 1g and 5g, so that could be anywhere between one and several cloves of garlic daily.
How long does black garlic keep?
Once aged, I like to keep the garlic wrapped up and placed in the fridge. You can also choose to peel open the garlic cloves and store them in a sealed container. Either way, if stored at room temperature, black garlic is said to keep for up to a month, but it likely will keep longer. It is just a lot more likely to dry out and not be at its best after that.
In the fridge, it can keep for somewhere between 3 to 6 months. To store longer, you can wrap them and freeze them for up to a year.