A few months ago, I received an email from a produce importer suggesting I try black garlic. My contact from Frieda's said black garlic had been compared to such ingredients as balsamic vinegar.
Let's backtrack for a bit. What is black garlic? Black garlic is fermented regular garlic, just as soy sauce and black bean sauce are. Fermentation is a natural process where sugar is converted to acid (vinegar) or alcohol (beer!). One of the most delicious results of fermentation is lactic acid. Bacteria create lactic acid in vegetables which are pickled, and milk which is cultured (among other things).
Fermentation occurs naturally - with a bit of help - and has been used for thousands of years to preserve food. I'm no scientist, but my understanding of fermentation is encouraging "good" bacteria to take over and transform our food into something edible before "bad" bacteria get hold and destroy everything.
Without fermentation, we would probably have died out a long time ago, because it sustained mankind during periods of drought, famine, seafaring, and plain old wintertime.
The result of fermentation is frequently a mouth-watering savory, sweet, and pleasant flavor; it can also be savory and have the aroma of gym socks and the texture of slime mold (in the case of natto).
Fermented garlic has the better qualities of fermentation; the process mellows out the pungency of raw garlic and creates a spreadable, sweet condiment which practically defines umami (the flavor of savory deliciousness).
So, what to do with this little treat? I found it wonderful spread on butter toast and added to simple pasta sauces (especially creamy or buttery ones). It seems particularly well-suited to anything containing cheese and cream, and would make a very lovely flavoring agent for vegetarian dishes, as it can be difficult to get that rich, meaty taste without the use of actual meat.
One of my favorite applications was in soup. I make a rich and hearty chicken broth loaded with black garlic in addition to the usual mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery). I strained them out before serving, but they added an amazing depth of flavor to the soup; something which would be undetectable as an individual component, but rather an undefinable deliciousness. (Okay, i've used deliciousness twice now, meaning you will probably begin to doubt the validity of my claim.) The garlic also added a great dark brown color to the usually pale chicken soup. At the suggestion of one of my Tweeps, I made herbed dumplings for the soup and it was tasty indeed. I'll write about it sometime soon.
Black garlic gets its color from the transformation of the amino acids. Because of its incredibly high antioxidant content, black garlic has been used for years as a health food until someone from the culinary world discovered its usage!
Black garlic is available the Hills Market, Weiland's, and Big Bird stores. You can usually find it in the garlic and shallot portion of the produce section. It comes in a little black plastic packet. It will last for a very long time as long as it isn't exposed to too much moisture; I keep the little silicone packet which comes with it, and store them together in a zip-top container after opening.