The Mystery of Black Garlic

I love food packed with mystery, and black garlic is high on that list. It either comes from a 4,000 year old recipe, or it was developed in 2004 by an entrepreneurial Korean man named Scott Kim. Regardless of its origin, it’s one of my favorite secret weapons in the kitchen.

Simply put, black garlic is slow roasted garlic. VERY slowly roasted. Unlike other root vegetables, garlic stores its energy for growth in sugars (most root vegetables store their energy in starches). When you roast garlic, those sugars condense, the cell walls break down and you get the sticky, sweet notes we love instead of that sharp, pungent scent of raw garlic.

Food science time! Let’s look at that sharp scent: garlic, when undisturbed, has virtually no scent. It’s only when we crush, slice, bite, or break the cell walls that the scent is released. What’s happening there? This is the genius of the allium family (onions, garlic, lilies, other underground bulbs), the sharp scent is their defense mechanism. Garlic contains two enzymes Alliin and Allinase, they are stored in cells separate from each other. When the clove is damaged in any way, these enzymes interact to create Allicin, a sulfur-rich compound that is a warning to animals to stay away.

Watch a black garlic tutorial!

But Allicin is actually a trick! It isn’t toxic at all, in fact it’s one of the strongest and most powerful antioxidants and antibiotics in the plant kingdom! The compound rapidly decays, in fact, the beneficial effects of Allicin only exist for about an hour after the clove is damaged. So, raw garlic is great for your body, but it must be eaten fresh and quickly, no heat applied.

Why roast then? When we roast garlic in the normal fashion (roughly 375 degrees for 45 minutes) we get caramelization of sugars, but we also lose the allicin. Garlic is still healthy in this manner, but not nearly as healthy as its raw version. Which brings us back to black garlic…

Black garlic is made by roasting at a very low temperature for a very long time. I make mine at roughly 140 degrees for anywhere from 10 days to a month! Now, what’s happening in that time? Well, we have some of the same caramelization of fructose, except on a much more extreme level. Those sugars condense so much that they completely alter the color of the cloves. The delicious chew we love in roasted garlic permeates the entire bulb, making candy out of every clove.

But what about those antioxidants? Well, allicin disappears with the heat and long exposure, but in its place a whole new range of antioxidant compounds develop, in fact black garlic has roughly double the amount of antioxidants as raw garlic. Allicin is a sulfur heavy compound, and while it is no longer present in the clove, a new sulfur rich compound develops: S-Allyl-Cycteine. SAC is 100% bioavailable and more well-absorbed and stable than allicin.

But like I said earlier, black garlic is one of my favorite secret weapons in the kitchen. Forget the health benefits for a minute and just consider the flavor! It’s almost like solidified balsamic vinegar, the complex notes are so dense that you can’t match this with another food. Black garlic melts into sauces, is delicious shaved over pastas or salads, and is even great eaten on its own. Cook it with vegetables for an unforgettable side dish!

For more info visit my website at  Renegade Kitchen