I first heard about black garlic a few years ago when a chef friend gave me a few cloves to try. I thought it was interesting, but I didn't really do a deep dive into the product because you couldn't buy it in stores yet. Fast forward to today where you can easily find black garlic at specialty stores, see it on restaurant menus and find countless online articles about how you can attempt to make your own black garlic. More on that later, but first, just what is black garlic?
What is Black Garlic?
Black garlic is created by aging regular garlic bulbs over the course of several weeks. It requires strictly regulated temperature and humidity to achieve its sticky, date-like consistency and inky black color. During this aging process, the cloves undergo the Maillard reaction as the heat creates changes in the amino acids and sugars in the garlic, which caramelizes the sugar. This reaction is what gives black garlic, its rich, tangy, molasses-like, umami-packed flavor and super soft texture. It's funky, and I love it!
Chef Matthew Brown of Black Garlic Market in Pensacola, Florida spoke with me about this unique product and how he's built a business around it. He admits that it can be hard to describe the flavor of black garlic. "Umami is the first word that comes to mind. I try to describe it as the flavor of 'age'. Anything that has an aged flavor to it - think balsamic vinegar, mushrooms, bourbon, miso, soy - it's difficult to describe, but it's a powerful flavor punch," said Matthew.
Matthew sells his black garlic in resealable plastic bags, and it's shelf stable due to the fermentation process. His process of making the garlic is trademarked because it's so different from other producers. He is currently working with the FDA to educate consumers about this unique product. "It doesn't fall into the canning category because we don't put it in a can. It's fermented, but we don't jar it. We don't add anything to the garlic, and we don't take anything away," said Matthew.
How to Use Black Garlic
Matthew says home cooks should not be afraid of black garlic, but they should know you can't treat it like regular garlic. You don't sauté it; you finish dishes with it. When asked how to use it by a home cook, he returns with questions before providing suggestions:
- What types of foods are you into?
- What's your cooking style?
- Are you vegetarian or a meat-lover?
Local restaurants in the Pensacola area use Matthew's black garlic in a variety of ways - from a compound butter to top steak to incorporating it into burgers, vinaigrettes, adding to Brussels sprouts or mushrooms as they sauté to even adding it to chicken salad (which later became award-winning). Black Garlic Market also makes a black garlic honey and black garlic mustard.
My first experiment with the black garlic was a simple compound butter. I took a half of a stick of room-temperature unsalted butter and mashed it together with a couple of black garlic cloves and seasoned to taste with salt. Wrap it up in plastic wrap, form into a tube shape and chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Compound butters freeze very well too.
Once chilled, you can slice it and top steaks or add to the pan when sautéing mushrooms or other vegetables.
I also served the compound butter on corn on the cob with the steak, and it was delicious. This was a fun way to bring some savoriness to the sweet corn at the end of summer.
Black Garlic 'Cue
The barbecue industry has also embraced Black Garlic Market's products. The honey is often used as part of a mop sauce, and the garlic itself is being used as a replacement for MSG by pitmasters. You could also puree black garlic in a marinade mix and inject it into meat such as a brisket. Ray Sheehan, aka the BBQ Budda, uses the black garlic in his hoisin-based Asian BBQ sauce which is included in his new cookbook, Award-Winning BBQ Sauces and How to Use Them.
The black garlic mustard helps to seal in moisture to the meat, and adds a nice flavor profile that doesn't overtake the meat. "We didn't want to hijack someone's meal. It's really about using the garlic as an ingredient, as a flavor enhancer, rather than chew on this black garlic bulb," said Matthew. Spread the mustard on a Reuben sandwich or include on a cheese and charcuterie tray to really blow your guests away!
Since my summer project is smoking meats, I put my products to the test with some St. Louis spareribs. First, I used a basic BBQ rub on the ribs and let them sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. They went on the smoker for about three hours. At that point, I took them off and smeared Black Garlic Market's mustard all over both sides, drizzled with Black Garlic Honey and topped with some of my homemade black garlic compound butter. I figured a triple punch of black garlic would take these ribs to a new level.
I wrapped the ribs in foil and back on the smoker they went for another hour. After resting for a while, I sliced and plated them. The mustard and honey created a sticky sweet yet savory glaze on the outside of the fall off the bone tender ribs. The flavor was so much more intense and different than traditional barbecue sauce. These ribs were definitely winners in my book!
Health Benefits of Black Garlic
Black garlic not only tastes good, but it's good for you, too! Benefits are still being researched but there's a lot we already know about the healthiness of black garlic. Eating black garlic can be at least partly responsible for:
- Blood sugar control: Like fresh raw garlic, black garlic can help to regulate blood sugar levels which helps prevent serious health issues, such as diabetes symptoms, kidney dysfunction, and more.
- Heart protection: Fresh raw garlic is known for its ability to help improve heart health. Black garlic may provide the same protective effects.
- Cancer fighting: Many studies show that the antioxidant properties of black garlic can help to fight against cancer.
- Brain health: With its antioxidants, black garlic can help reduce inflammation in the body and prevent cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
- Increased immunity: By reducing inflammation, the antioxidants in black garlic can help boost your immune system. A healthy immune system means that your body is able to fight infections and bacteria more effectively.
- Liver health: Black garlic may help improve the health of your liver. Some research shows that the food can help to lower markers of liver injury following liver damage, decrease fatty deposits in the liver and rebalance liver cell size.
Why Not to DIY Black Garlic
In my research on the subject of black garlic, I came upon many online articles and YouTube videos that tout how one can easily do this themselves at home. I was intrigued by an Instant Pot method (because as you all know, I'm obsessed with mine) but it got very poor marks from testers. The only method that seems to work even remotely is by using a rice cooker. However, it takes eight days and you need to be able to regulate the temperature of your rice cooker. It also smells up your house so bad that most people end up putting the rice cooker in the garage for this experiment. While I often use my Instant Pot as a rice cooker, there was no way I was going to tie that thing up for eight days and possibly ruin it. (see obsession previously mentioned)
So, I decided to leave this to the experts. "I kind of giggle because at the beginning I thought we were going to get replaced. But the more people who try it, the more people who realize it's not that easy. I went through a year of destroying hundreds of pounds of garlic to get our product to where it is now. That's why we have a strong chef following because I tested it with them throughout the process. We've gone back to the drawing board numerous times. So, please try DIYing it yourself and then buy ours! After you're done and you spent too much money and your house stinks, I'll give you a bulb and you can experience the good stuff," chuckles Matthew.
Black Garlic in Cocktails
Matthew loves to see what those chefs do with his black garlic, so when Chef Todd Payden of Summerland, California wanted to make a black garlic syrup, he was excited to see what he came up with. "We've had lots of people use the black garlic in products and rarely do we find people nail it, but he nailed it. It has the essence of black garlic with no carbon flavor. I can't wait to experiment it as a sweetener in coffee drinks," said Matthew. And Monkey Bars was born! This product is so new, it's not even being sold online yet, but I was lucky enough to snag the last bottle at The Farm in Pensacola where Matthew produces the black garlic. Monkey Bars tell me the syrup will "soon" be available on Amazon.
This syrup is not heavy on the sugar or the vinegar. It would easily work in a Bloody Mary, Old Fashioned and Mojito (the mojito was recommended by Monkey Bars when I contacted them for ideas). Of course, I turned to The Chopping Block's Spirits Expert Christophe Bakunas who is familiar with black garlic and immediately came up with a riff on the Man O' War (named after one of the greatest horses in horse racing history) as a drink to showcase this syrup.
Black Garlic Man o' War
Recipe provided by The Chopping Block's Spirits Expert Christophe Bakunas
2 ounces bourbon
.75 ounce orange liqueur
.5 ounce black garlic syrup
.5 ounce sweet vermouth
.5 ounce lime juice
Shake, serve up and garnish with fancy cocktail cherries.
I was a little skeptical about this drink because... well, garlic in a cocktail? However, it was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. The black garlic syrup is spot on. It's a balanced syrup that doesn't take over the drink but adds a note of savory that's different and fun. I tend to drink more bourbon in the winter than during warmer weather, and I'm excited that this cocktail will now be in the regular rotation at my house.
You can't see the fancy cocktail cherries from Michigan in the drink since it's so dark in color but I promise, they are in there!
For First-Time Black Garlic Users
When I saw the Black Garlic Market products sold in Pensacola, I saw a printout of a recipe for a basic vinaigrette which has been used at Pensacola's EggFest, an annual festival that celebrates the Big Green Egg. This is a basic salad vinaigrette that relaxes the flavor a bit but keeps the black garlic essence. It's great for salads, marinades, drizzled over fish (see below). Matthew describes this recipe as a "go-to sauce for first time black garlic users or anyone who doesn't want to go too crazy."
Black Garlic Vinaigrette
Recipe compliments of Pensacola EggFest
1 head black garlic removed from the peel and finely chopped
1 small clove fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
3 ounces red wine vinegar plus more to taste
2 Tablespoons black garlic mustard
1 Tablespoon black garlic honey (or other sweetener of choice)
6 ounces EVOO
- In a blender or food processor, combine the black garlic, fresh garlic and shallot and blend as finely as possible. Add the red wine vinegar, mustard and honey and again blend to combine.
- Add olive oil in a steady stream, blending until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add more oil if needed to reach the desired texture. After adding additional oil, check the seasoning one more time for salt, pepper and acid.
- Enjoy right away or store in the fridge for up to a week or more. The mustard and black garlic help this dressing emulsify.
Don't just reserve this vinaigrette for salads. It also goes amazing with grilled or roasted salmon or any other type of fish you like.
I also thought the black garlic would go perfectly with a white pizza, and was I right! Since it was a weeknight, I cheated and bought some store-bought fresh pizza dough but the 48-to-72 hour Biga Pizza Dough I've shared with you before would be fabulous with this pizza.
Black Garlic Mushroom Pizza
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Makes: 1 pizza, 3-4 people
Prep time: 15 minutes if using store-bought pizza dough
Cook time: 20 minutes
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing the crust
1 pound sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 shallot, minced
1 fresh pizza dough (store-bought or homemade)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
3 black garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Salt and pepper to taste
Red chile flakes for garnish
1. Preheat your oven with a pizza stone to 450 degrees.
2. Heat 1 Tablespoon oil (or some of your black garlic compound butter) in skillet on medium-high heat. Cook mushrooms and shallot until golden brown and tender. Cool.
3. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese and the black garlic cloves together.
4. Coat your pizza peel with a light coating of cornmeal, roll out dough, place on peel and brush with olive oil.
5. Spread the ricotta garlic mixture over the dough. Top with mushrooms. Top with mozzarella cheese.
6. Transfer pizza to stone in oven. Bake 18-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.
7. Sprinkle with red chile flakes and serve.
Once I saw how well the black garlic played with cheese, I wanted to test it in a dip I recently brought to a friend's football viewing party. I knew the black garlic would be subtle enough to not turn off anyone and even peak some interest. When I asked people to guess what special ingredient was in it, one of my friends said truffle, which I thought was a very good guess. There are definitely hints of that flavor which is why black garlic pairs so well with mushrooms and cheese.
I was also able to use some of the labneh balls I recently made while testing recipes for Instantly Mediterranean (yes, I mentioned the Instant Pot again and if you are interested in learning more, we have a virtual class coming up soon). If you aren't familiar with labneh (i.e. yogurt cheese), you can substitute plain Greek yogurt or just omit completely and go with just the cheeses.
Black Garlic Caprese Dip
8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3-4 labneh balls (or sub 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt)
3-4 black garlic cloves, peel removed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for dressing tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes, diced
Fresh basil, chiffonade
Cream of Balsamic (or reduced balsamic vinegar)
1. Mix black garlic, cheeses and labneh/yogurt in a food processor and process until smooth.
2. Drizzle in the olive oil and mix well. Season to taste with salt.
3. Mix tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar in a separate bowl. Season to taste with salt. Spoon over cheese dip and serve with crackers.
While we're talking yummy snacks, I eat hummus and carrots every day, so I thought why not throw some black garlic in an easy hummus recipe?
Black Garlic Hummus
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons tahini
4 cloves black garlic
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons olive oil, or more if you like your hummus smoother
- Place all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
Where to Buy Black Garlic
Black garlic is available in a number of forms—from whole heads to peeled cloves to a dehydrated powder—at specialty spice shops, and even big box stores like Whole Foods and World Market. However, I will tell you that I also tested the jarred black garlic from World Market in some of the above experiments, and it doesn't compare to Matthew's at all. It was much harder in texture, with a less intense umami flavor and just a hint of burnt garlic (that carbon flavor Matthew spoke about). And it doesn't incorporate as easily into butter, cheese, etc. like Black Garlic Market's product.
"99% of the black garlic that is out there has a texture like a gummy bear and tastes like carbon. The hard texture and flavor is horrible. We’ve had companies bring us their version and when I can bounce it on the table, I ask 'do I have to try it?'" said Matthew.
Matthew and his business partner and fiancée, Sandy Veilleux, are currently working on building a website, but they not only sell to multiple businesses in their hometown, they ship all over the country and even internationally. For now, contact them via Facebook to place an order.
The Chopping Block's Flavor Dynamics class has been instrumental in teaching me about my five different tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami and how to balance them in everything I cook. I credit that class with honing my palate so that I could take foods I eat every day and find ways to incorporate black garlic into them. After this class, you'll feel more empowered to experiment on your own, whether it's with black garlic or any other ingredient.
Join us for our next session on Saturday, October 30 at 11:30am CST. If you are in Chicago, you can join us in-person at our Merchandise Mart and if not, you can experience the same class virtually from wherever you may be. It's one of our new hybrid class options to bring this unique experience to everyone!