These are dark days in the food world.
Along with last year’s top trend, activated charcoal, Google searches for black garlic are trending upward as more chefs and foodies seek out the savoury licorice, balsamic vinegar and molasses notes of these jet-black cloves.
Without garlic’s usual pungent bite and a chewy texture like dried apricots, black garlic is simply a fresh garlic bulb heated at low temperatures with controlled humidity for 10 to 40 days until caramelized. The resulting sticky black cloves add the rich taste of umami to any dish, from appetizers to dessert.
“Customers are surprised to learn that its unique colour, taste and texture are accomplished without any additives,” says spokesperson Sabrina Mcmanus, senior director of Loblaw brands, which has seen double-digit growth in the past two years on its 30-gram jars of peeled black cloves from Spain.
“More high-end chefs are using it,” says Lino Vittorio of JohnVince Foods, which sells pouches of black garlic from South Korea, “but I don’t think it will ever be a mainstream item.”
Depending on who you believe, black garlic is either a 4,000-year-old Asian tradition or a specialty product with no ancient lineage introduced in 2008 by a Korean-born entrepreneur in California.
Producers claim it’s more easily digested than fresh, and that garlic’s antioxidant level more than doubles when heated –some call it fermented – making it popular as a health supplement.
While most black garlic sold locally hails from Korea, China or California, investment banker turned garlic grower Jimmy Clubb is one of a handful of producers creating black garlic closer to home in Quebec.
I found his distinctive Garlic Clubb boxes at Toronto’s Harvest Wagon among jars of black garlic paste. The papery skin of the individual bulbs looks pretty dry and beaten-up after being aged for a month.
Clubb, who pops a clove a day for health reasons, advises first-timers to start slowly and add a clove or two at a time, finely chopped or mashed, to a dish.
“Black garlic is meant as a background flavour to add depth to your cooking,” he said. “It’s not meant to stand out or overpower a dish.”
For a sweet taste sensation, he recommends slipping a few minced cloves into chocolate cake batter.
“With more chefs involved and enthusiastic foodies willing to try new things, I think black garlic has real momentum behind it,” he says.
And it won’t leave you with garlic breath.
Buy & Store
- Look for black garlic in local Asian, specialty and independent supermarkets. Loblaws sells it in the spice section.
- Keep in a cool, dry place or refrigerate in a resealable bag for up to two years.
- If you buy whole bulbs, separate cloves and discard papery coating.
- To release flavour, knead, mash or finely chop a peeled black clove. Dissolve in hot water or mix well with hot butter or oil.
- Jimmy Clubb recommends Home Hardware’s Kuraidori garlic slicer and Dreamfarm’s Garject garlic press to break up black garlic easily.
- For a garlicky flavour, add fresh garlic cloves along with black cloves.
- Use in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic.
The simplest DIY method online uses a rice cooker on the keep-warm setting. Place a mat in the cooker, cover with a paper towel, add dry, clean garlic bulbs and cover with a second paper towel. Close lid and let sit 10 to 14 days until black and tender, checking occasionally.
- Add slivers to scrambled eggs, sautéed green beans, spaghetti aglio olio or pizza.
- Finely slice and add to sautéed onions when making risotto.
- Add finely chopped black garlic to warmed butter and pour over steamed asparagus.
- Saute mushrooms with slivers of black garlic.
- Slip a few mashed cloves into bean or vegetable soup or add to beef stew.
- Add paste to mayonnaise, cream cheese or goat cheese.
- Add a little mashed black garlic to barbecue or spaghetti sauce.
- Mash with butter and rub under the skin of a whole chicken before roasting.
- Chop and add to a garlic-breadcrumb crust for a rack of lamb.
- Spread toasted baguette slices with mashed cloves or top with tomato salsa infused with chopped black garlic.
- Finely chop and add to chocolate brownie or cake batter before baking.
Black Garlic Shrimp Linguine
If you’ve ever wondered what “umami” tastes like, try this easy dish.
12 oz (375 g) dry linguine
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves black garlic (1 bulb), finely chopped
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
24 large shrimp (size 31-40), thawed if frozen, shelled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh parsley
Boil pasta in a large pot according to package directions.
Heat oil and butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add shallot and cook until soft and translucent. Whisk in black garlic to combine. Add wine, lemon juice and zest. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced by half.
Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and cook until pink, about 3 minutes, turning once. Add parsley.
Drain pasta and add to skillet. Toss with tongs to coat with sauce. Check seasoning. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.