Experiment With Black Garlic On Hallowe’en

In this post:

  • The flavour of black garlic
  • How was black garlic invented?
  • How is black garlic made?
  • Black garlic health benefits – unsubstantiated
  • Which chefs use black garlic?
  • Where can you buy black garlic?
  • Music to listen to as you read and experiment – The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black

Sheltering from a downpour in the treasure trove of Bridget’s Market at Bridport, I came upon something which looked very strange. “What is this?” I asked the owner, Marina Price. “Ah” she replied,

“that’s the new magic ingredient, all the chefs are asking for it. It’s black garlic.”

The flavour of black garlic

Reader, I couldn’t resist, and once tried I could see what the chefs were after. This dark allium produces a sort of umami earthy mix of smoke and old leather, slightly balsamic…. prunes….tamarind… liquorice; molasses and caramel. Black garlic has a sweeter, softer taste, and it has lost the kick of fresh garlic.

From a visual point of view, chopped finely it adds an exotic appearance to whatever it adorns.

How was black garlic invented?

So I had to investigate. I found out who the producers were and asked them all about it.

Wendy Botwright, of the South-West Garlic Farm,  explained to me, “Mark came across a 4,000 year old Korean* recipe and translated it. He put some garlic in a tin and put it in the bottom oven of our Aga. After a couple of months the garlic had turned black! And it was from this that Mark then purchased his first oven and began perfecting the quality and taste. We entered it into the Great Taste Awards in 2013 and this is when it took off.”

*The Chinese also lay claim to inventing black garlic, pointing out that it is documented in the sixth century Tao Te Ching.

Mark Botwright - creator of the juicy, flavoursome British black garlic
Mark Botwright – aka Mark the Garlic, creator of the juicy, flavoursome British black garlic

How is black garlic made?

Black garlic, or smoked garlic as it is sometimes called, is produced by a fermentation process which takes forty days under controlled conditions of heat and humidity. The amino acids and sugars react (partly using the Maillard reaction which results in a rich, caramelly flavour) and turn the garlic to a jelly-like consistency and a dark brown colour. Afterwards there is a further ten days of drying, deepening and enriching the sweet flavour. The British black garlic varies from imported versions in that it never becomes hard – instead it’s juicy and spreadable.

Making black garlic is a completely natural process, involving no additives or preservatives.

Go to The Science of Cooking website for a good explanation of the Maillard reaction.

Black garlic health benefits – unsubstantiated

Double-benefit, it is somehow supposed to keep colds at bay as well as being anti-cancer and cholesterol-reducing. I have searched the internet however and I am yet to come up with any serious scientific studies to back up the rumours, but for me the taste is enough – it raises the game of almost any dish you care to add it to.

Which chefs use black garlic?

Mark and Wendy began marketing their garlic to top chefs, delis, and specialist retailers. with great success – Nigella Lawson, Valentine Warner, Mark Hix and Yotam Ottolenghi all use it….

Suggestions for using black garlic – NB: you don’t need to cook it, it’s ready to use

….And, back down to earth, so have I. I’ve used it in:

And it would be excellent in:

  • Earthy, spooky mushroom risotto
  • Added to warmed butter and poured over steamed or roasted asparagus
  • mixed with breadcrumbs and made into a crust to cover a shoulder of lamb; or mixed into a salsa verde and served with lamb
  • Nigel Slater (Kitchen Diaries III) infuses cream with smoked garlic while braising potatoes in water and olive oil… he then pours the cream over the drained potatoes and simmers for a few more minutes.
  • he also adds them to a dish of prawns fried in dill, lemon, and butter.
  • You could try adding it to Montepulciano braised potatoes.
  • it goes well with blue cheese and salty feta
  • Ottolenghi roasts 450g halved Brussels sprouts in olive oil. Then he makes a paste of 20 black garlic cloves, a teaspoon of crushed caraway seeds, and a couple of tbsps of thyme. Then he fries the lot with some pumpkin seeds for a few seconds in butter – and serves with a tahini sauce.
  • mash it, and mix it into a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, soy, mustard and walnut oil.
  • chop finely and serve with ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta
  • Fusion food fundamentalist, Peter Gordon, suggests serving it with chicken, kumquats, kale, and avocado. You can find a recipe for chicken with kumquats on Saucy Dressings, here.
  • Steve Drake at Sorrel incorporates it, together with spring onions, into a pearl barley pudding and serves it with grey mullet

I also found myself nibbling at it on its own (luckily it doesn’t seem to leave you with vampire-proof breath).

Where can you buy black garlic?

It’s available in some supermarkets; in traditional greengrocers such as Bridget’s Market; from The Original Black Garlic Company; and from the South-West Garlic Farm. You can also get it from Sous Chef.

Music to listen to as you experiment 

What else to listen to while you experiment with your black garlic than The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.

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