Ever heard of black garlic? What do you think of when you hear the term?
Black garlic is not a variety of garlic grown. Rather, it is regular garlic bulbs that have gone through a fermentation process. Fermenting garlic to turn it into black garlic is truly food transformation. I say that because black garlic in no way tastes, looks like, or has the same consistency as the traditional hard white garlic we use to give garlic flavour to dishes.
To find out more about black garlic, I travelled to Kensington, PEI, where I paid a visit to garlic grower, Al Picketts, of Eureka Garlic.
Al has been growing garlic for 12 years. In 2012, he grew 42,000 plants and this year, with the cloves already in the ground since October, Al has increased his crop to 46,380 plants which will be harvested in July-August, 2013. He grows eight types of garlic and 78 varieties in those types. Yes, Al knows a thing or two about garlic!
Al’s main business is in selling seed garlic but, in November, 2011, he began the fermentation process to turn garlic into black garlic. Al has been working with the Bio Food Tech Center in Charlottetown as he perfects his fermentation process and product. While Al keeps his exact fermentation process a carefully-guarded secret, he did show me a recycled refrigerator that he insulates well, heats with a water heater, and uses as an incubator of sorts for the fermentation process.
Inside this incubator are stacks of covered plastic storage boxes containing hundreds of garlic bulbs fermenting. He tells me it takes about three weeks in controlled temperature for the fermentation to occur. The top right photo below shows a garlic bulb in the early stages of fermentation and the one in the lower right photo is a completely fermented bulb. The photo on the left below shows different colored bulbs in the plastic containers; these are bulbs at different stages of the fermentation process as they change and deepen in color.
When fermented, the cloves will be a dark chocolate brown color – almost black — and very soft. This is not the kind of garlic you could put through a garlic press and it does not mince well. But, oh, it does have its own unique flavour! The cloves can be carefully sliced or mashed with a fork and added to recipes.
When Al offered me a taste of the black garlic, straight up, I must admit I was trying to prepare my tastebuds for a somewhat pungent, strong garlic flavour. But, one of the most surprising things about black garlic is the taste. I would describe it as somewhat sweet, no discernible garlic taste, and being a cross between a prune and a fig in taste, color, and texture. So, if you are looking to use it as you would regular garlic, don’t expect any garlic flavour in the dish as black garlic has a sweet, fruity taste. Black garlic, however, brings its own unique subtle flavour to dishes like soups, sauces, and seafood and is often used in Asian cooking. The black color does not change when cooked so you need to prepare for that color in your dish. There are not a lot of black foods and some might suggest they would not be appetizing. However, I find the contrast of the black garlic on white fish, for example, to be quite dynamic and appealing.
Black garlic is a relatively new local food item and the jury is still out as to whether it is a food fad or if it may well become a food trend. Could it be garlic’s new cavier? Promoters claim it may be the next superfood, citing its health benefits — it reportedly boasts twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic. That said, I couldn’t find any scientific research studies completed on black garlic that would state conclusively what its specific health benefits are.
So, if it doesn’t taste like garlic why, then, use it? I would say because it offers another flavouring and complexity to many dishes. I have used it on pizza and in seafood dishes and I plan to try it next with pork.
Al tells me that black garlic can be stored at room temperature – no refrigeration required – for several months. He says it can also be stored in the freezer and, when you want to use it, just remove as many cloves as needed and mash them with a fork or slice them with a knife – there is no need to thaw them first.
Al sells his black garlic for $30/pound. On Prince Edward Island, it is available directly from Al at his farm “Eureka Garlic” on the corner of Routes 2 and 233 in Kensington (902)836-5180.
As you know, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and make a recipe featuring the food item. The recipe below, for scallops, is how I used black garlic with seafood and I found the result really tasty (yes, I’ve made this dish more than once already!). The black garlic does not mask the scallop flavour and yet it accents the seafood well. This recipe serves two.
Scallops in Black Garlic
3 T butter
Fresh ground pepper
4 cloves black garlic, sliced
¼ cup white wine
½ T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried chives
1 tsp parsley
Melt 2 T butter in small skillet. Over medium-high heat, sear the scallops 2-3 minutes per side until lightly golden in color. Transfer scallops to plate and keep warmed.
Add 1 additional tablespoon of butter to skillet. Add the black garlic and sauté for 30-45 seconds. Add pepper to taste. Add white wine, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice. Stir over medium-low heat 1-2 minutes until sauce reduces. Add herbs and heat for about 30 seconds.
To serve, plate the warm scallops and spoon the black garlic sauce over the seafood. Serve with potato or rice and a side of vegetables.
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