2009.08.05 The garlic turned black

Written by David Green.


It started out with something I saw on a website. The Guardian newspaper from London has a great blog with several different topics, including Word of Mouth—all about food.

Last month there was a photo of something very strange, but very interesting. It was black garlic, something I’d never heard of.

I mentioned it on the Observer website and a couple of days later I received an e-mail from Hazel Kelly of Frieda’s specialty produce company in California. She offered to send a sample package of black garlic and I was quick to give her my mailing address.

The Guardian web page listed the 50 best gadgets and gourmet goodies as rated by the London Observer’s food taster, Caroline Boucher.

She listed items such as ginger biscuits and ginger beer, spelt flakes and seaweed, liquorice, peeled chestnuts and salted caramels. She mentioned chili jellies—ginger and lime, in particular—and the middle eastern spices sumach and za’atar.

She likes pumpkin seed oil (“fabulous dark roasted oil with a deep flavor”) and truffle oil (“a quick squirt from the pretty grey can adds class and pizzaz to pastas and casseroles”).

And then there’s black garlic, number six on the list of 50.

Boucher describes black garlic this way: “Terrifying to look at, but with a sweet and more rounded flavor than the white version when used in cooking.”

I did some reading about this taste treat and learned that it’s prized in Korea for its antioxidant and anti-fungal properties—double the amount as white garlic, and easier for the body to absorb.

I thought it was a different species of garlic, but I soon learned that it’s regular white garlic that’s been heated and then aged for a month. It’s fermented.

It turns soft. And black, of course.

The Washington Post recently described black garlic as the next “it” ingredient. It’s the big thing in hip restaurants. It’s a cult hit in California’s Bay area, etc.

My sample arrived late last week. The photo on the front of the package showed bulbs that look quite normal, although a little dark. Through a clear plastic window on the back side, a pair of bulbs could be seen and one of them looked as though it had a black smear.

I took the package home, cut it open and took a sniff. Oh. Wow. I don’t like that. I took out a clove, pulled off a clove and opened it. It looked a little worrisome, but very interesting. Squishy, sort of pasty. And very black. It resembled a thick miso, which is made from fermented soy beans.

I ate the thing and wasn’t all that pleased that I did. One of the companies that sells it suggests snacking on it like dried fruit. That’s not for me.

I thought back to Ms. Boucher: Terrifying, but with a sweet, more rounded flavor. There definitely was a sweet flavor to it, with a slight taste of the terrifying. It’s nothing like garlic.

The next day I decided to try it with dinner. I cut a clove into pieces and mixed it around in a bowl of rice and vegetables. Good stuff! I could get to really like this item. Especially free samples. I was beginning to feel like I was part of a cult hit.

I left it out of my second bowl of rice and vegetables and it tasted really bland. I should have fetched more of the black delight.

One description of black garlic that I read suggests it’s “creamy, with a tangy flavor like balsamic.” Maybe. I’m not yet able to put a tongue on that taste.

I’d like to share it with others, but it’s been more like cajoling others to try it. The name itself lacks appeal to many people. Perhaps the marketing department should have done better.

At a Sunday meal with relatives today, I discovered that broccoli overshadowed the taste. The same with roasted potatoes and quiche. Some experimentation is in order.

Nobody was too excited about the stuff and my wife still refuses to eat any, so I don’t think I have to worry about running out for a while. Those tangy little black cloves are all mine.

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