What is Black Garlic?

Amanda R. Bell

The name black garlic can refer to either fermented garlic or the rare six-clove garlic. Both of these delicacies originated in Asia and primarily come from Korea. Vastly different in flavor, they are most often found in health food stores, gourmet specialty shops, and upscale restaurants.

Fermented black garlic has been used in a variety of Asian dishes for years.
Fermented black garlic has been used in a variety of Asian dishes for years.

Fermented garlic, also known as black garlic, takes approximately a month to create, and increases the antioxidants and cancer fighting agents of the herb. It is fermented by heating high quality bulbs for three weeks and then leaving them to cool for one week. The resulting product looks exactly as the name suggests. The papery skin becomes a rich brown, while the cloves change from their usual off-white to a rich black.

Black garlic is sometimes used as a garnish at upscale restaurants.
Black garlic is sometimes used as a garnish at upscale restaurants.

This change in color is a natural result of the sugars in garlic reacting to their exposure to heat. Regular garlic, when left in a pan, will eventually burn and turn black; this, however, is not the type of black garlic many would be willing to eat. When this process happens slowly over a long period, the garlic develops a similar consistency to dried fruit, with a rich licorice flavor and light garlic aftertaste.

While fermented black garlic has been used in Asian cuisine for many years, it became popular in the rest of the world circa 2008. It is considered a delicacy by many food aficionados and a health food by nutritionists. Black garlic is used by several high-end restaurants as a main ingredient or a garnish. A select few specialty brick-and-mortar stores carry the item, and it can also be ordered online.

The term black garlic can also be used to describe six-clove garlic, which is exceedingly rare. Standard bulbs of garlic, the kind sold in grocery stores worldwide, typically have 10 to 12 cloves. Six-clove garlic is almost exclusively grown in the Korean mountains and is considered more flavorful and nutritious than its common counterpart.

Six clove garlic is often referred to as "immortal garlic," based on the Taoist belief that this rare bulb can grant immortality. Scientifically, the typical health benefits attributed to common garlic are found in much higher quantities in black garlic. It is believed to be able to reduce cholesterol, fight bacteria, and provide damage reversing antioxidants.

While common garlic is considered an extremely important health food, and found in nearly every cuisine in varying amounts, black garlic is believed to be even better for one's health. The concentration of nutrients, whether in fermented garlic or six-clove garlic, maximize the health benefits of household garlic. It can be hard to come by, especially the ancient six clove variety; for many, the health benefits and flavor difference can be worth the time and money.

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