Umami-rich, sticky black garlic is the new ingredient that chefs are raving about. Ottolenghi included. But what is black garlic? Is it good for you? And how do you use it? Food writer, Rachel de Thample, explains all with her favourite black garlic recipes.
If you were to eat a black garlic clove blind-folded you would think someone had offered you a balsamic-flavoured Jelly Baby. The dark, sticky cloves are soft and tangy with only the faintest hint of garlic. This highly-prised ingredient is one Yotam Ottolenghi, among other chefs, raves about. And it’s easy to see why.
What are the benefits of black garlic?
Black garlic has a lot going for it beyond it’s unique, umami-rich flavour. It has been created for as long as 4,000 years by the Koreans, who to this day, deem it a health product. Koreans use it in cooking as well as adding it to energy drinks. In Thailand, they believe black garlic to increase longevity and there, it features in everything from chocolates to sauces. As well as balsamic, it also has strong sweet and tangy notes of tamarind, making it a good swap.
So how does black garlic get its flavour?
It’s not a special variety of garlic but rather normal garlic bulbs that are slowly aged, and effectively fermented, by cooking them at a very low heat over the course of 60 to 90 days. The bulbs are kept in a humidity-controlled environment at temperatures that range from 60°C to 77°C. There are no additives, preservatives, or burning of any kind.
The enzymes that give fresh garlic its sharpness break down. Those conditions are thought to facilitate the Maillard reaction, the chemical process that produces new flavour compounds responsible for the deep taste of seared meat and fried onions. Throughout this process, the garlic cloves are transformed from their sharp flavour and white, crunchy appearance to sticky, date-like black cloves.
Umami-packed Black Garlic Pasta. Recipe: Alice King. Photo: Natalé Towell
So how do you use it? Black garlic recipes you’ll want to try
One of my favourite ways to eat black garlic is simply on its own as a snack, like a savoury Wine Gum or Jelly Baby. Of course, there are far more creative ways to put it to good use, too. Its tamarind-like qualities make it an amazing staple for whipping up quick and easy Asian sauces. Blend with equal portions of soy sauce, orange juice and freshly grated ginger, with an optional hint of chilli, and you’ve got a stunning sauce for stir-fried noodles, or a marinade for meat or fish. That combo also makes a stunning dip tempera or dim sum dumplings.
Roasted Beetroot with Black Garlic Yoghurt. Recipe: Alice King. Photo: Natalé Towell
If you think of it more like little cloves of balsamic-richness, you can employ it in Italian cuisine, blending it by the tablespoon into a tomatoey pasta sauce, or woven into a pesto. Either in addition or in place of the harshness of raw garlic cloves.
It’s also lovely in dips, whipped simply with yoghurt for dramatic effect – this is especially good with beetroot, or paired with mushrooms. Because of its delicate garlicky flavour, a considerably larger amount of black garlic must be used in comparison to white garlic in order to achieve a similar level of intensity, but this is not a bad thing for those who are averse to the strength of normal garlic. In this respect, black garlic is a brilliant way of getting children into eating garlic.
With it’s long-standing history, reputed health benefits and rising popularity amongst the culinary elite, black garlic is definitely an ingredient that’s here to stay.
Black Garlic & Mushroom Pesto
Black Garlic Pesto. Great with pasta, as a dip, stuffed into game or poultry and so much more.
Recipe: Rachel de Thample. Photo: Natalé Towell
My two favourite things to pair with mushrooms are garlic and balsamic vinegar. As black garlic bundles the two flavours in one, it makes it an obvious companion and it’s great in this dish as everything is just blitzed up raw, so you don’t end up with garlic breath, just delicious hints of allium flavour.
Serves: 4 to 6
– 200g chestnut mushrooms
– 4 tablespoons walnuts
– 2 tablespoons black garlic
– 1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
– zest of 1 lemon, plus a squeeze or two of juice
– 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Finely chop the mushrooms, walnuts, black garlic and parsley leaves until you have a coarse paste, or pulse everything in a food processor until it comes together.
2. Generously season with salt and pepper and the zest of a lemon. Add enough olive oil and a little squeeze of lemon juice to bring everything together. This lovely pesto can be used with pasta, as a dip, on toast – lovely with brie or mozzarella, stuffed into game or poultry and so much more. A delicious all-rounder.
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