Food preservation has been essential throughout human history. One fascinating preservation method that has gained popularity in recent years is black garlic. Although it is a culinary delight, black garlic also serves as an innovative way to extend the shelf life of garlic while transforming its flavour. In this blog post, we'll explore the ancient technique of using black garlic as a food preservation method and how it has been revived in modern times.
1. History of Black Garlic Preservation: The process of black garlic preservation dates back centuries and is believed to have originated in Asia, particularly in Korea, Japan, and Thailand. It was traditionally used as a way to store garlic for extended periods without spoilage. The exact origin and time of its development are unclear, but the aging methods used to create black garlic were valued for their ability to transform garlic into a unique and flavourful ingredient.
2. Aging Process: Black garlic preservation involves subjecting fresh garlic bulbs to a controlled fermentation and aging process. The garlic bulbs are typically kept in a warm and humid environment for several weeks to months. During this time, enzymatic reactions and the Maillard reaction occur, resulting in the transformation of garlic's flavour, texture, and colour.
3. Controlled Temperature and Humidity: To create black garlic, maintaining a specific temperature and humidity is crucial. The garlic bulbs are typically stored in a controlled environment with temperatures ranging from 60 to 75 degrees Celsius and high humidity. These conditions encourage the desired chemical reactions, including the Maillard reaction, which gives black garlic its characteristic dark colour. The image below is from Najman et al Influence of Thermal Processing on the Bioactive, Antioxidant, and Physicochemical Properties of Conventional and Organic Agriculture Black Garlic (Allium sativum L.)Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(23), 8638; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10238638
4. Chemical Changes and Flavour Development: During the aging process, significant chemical changes take place within the garlic bulbs. The Maillard reaction leads to the development of melanoidins, pigments responsible for the black colour of the cloves. As a result, the pungent and spicy compounds in fresh garlic, such as allicin, are broken down into various sulphur compounds, resulting in a mellow, sweet, and umami-rich flavour profile with hints of caramel and balsamic notes.
5. Extended Shelf Life: Black garlic's preservation process significantly extends the shelf life of garlic compared to fresh garlic. While fresh garlic bulbs typically have a relatively short storage life, black garlic can be stored for up to two years or even longer when kept in a cool and dry environment. This extended shelf life allows for greater culinary flexibility and reduces waste.
6. Culinary Applications: The preserved black garlic can be used in a wide range of culinary applications. Its unique flavour profile makes it a versatile ingredient, adding depth and complexity to various dishes. It can be incorporated into sauces, marinades, dressings, soups, stews, stir-fries, and even desserts. Black garlic's sweet and savoury taste enhances the overall flavour profile of dishes, making it a sought-after ingredient for chefs and food enthusiasts. It is key however, to not see black garlic as a replacement for fresh garlic. While adding garlic flavour, it is not great to chop and fry black garlic at the beginning of a dish (as you may with fresh garlic). Frying black garlic off hard, leads to little burnt black dots in the pan rather than that beautiful black garlic richness!
71. Health Benefits: While black garlic is primarily known for its culinary merits, it also offers potential health benefits. Like fresh garlic, black garlic contains certain compounds, such as antioxidants and polyphenols, which may have positive effects on health. Additionally, black garlic is known to have higher levels of S-allyl cysteine, a compound associated with potential heart health benefits.
Conclusion: The ancient technique of preserving garlic to create black garlic has been revived in modern times. This innovative method not only extends the shelf life of garlic but also transforms its flavour, creating a unique ingredient with a mellow, sweet, and umami-rich taste. As a versatile culinary ingredient and potential source of health benefits, black garlic has found its place in the culinary world, captivating chefs and gourmet cooks.