The Culinary Gene : Black Garlic Magic
Black has always been the ‘in’ thing. And now ‘black’ is here to add a special flavour in a way which is subtle, yet makes its presence felt in a very distinctive way.
If you have always liked the taste of garlic in Indian or Italian dishes, you will love it all the more in Japanese and Korean cuisines. Or perhaps even a dessert with the added flavour of black garlic. Yes, you read it right—black garlic is here to stay and is making a place for itself in kitchens all over the world.
A close relative of onions, shallots, leeks and chives, Allium sativum (or garlic) has its home in central Asia and has been known throughout history for its culinary and medicinal uses. Black garlic is a type of fermented garlic used as a food ingredient.
Inventor Scott Kim began developing the product in South Korea in 2004. Originally, his aim was to market aged or fermented black garlic as a super-food: its patented, month-long heat-curing process creates a high level of antioxidants and makes it a natural cancer-preventing compound. Forms of fermented garlic have long been eaten for health reasons in Korea and Japan.
Says Chef Arzooman Irani at the Taj West End, Bangalore, “Black garlic is made by fermenting whole bulbs of garlic at high temperature, a process that results in black cloves. In Korea, black garlic was introduced as a health product and it is still perceived as health supplementary food. Black garlic is prized as a food rich in antioxidants and added to energy drinks. In Thailand, black garlic is claimed to increase the consumer’s longevity.”
Garlic contains sugars and amino acids and when it undergoes fermentation, these elements produce melanoidin, a dark coloured substance which is responsible for imparting the colour to the black garlic.
Though the only ingredient is garlic, black garlic does not resemble the regular garlic at all. It is full of complex flavours that take your mouth on a gustatory adventure. The initial bite is mild, followed by a burst of caramelised sweetness, and a rich savoury finish.
“Black garlic tastes sweet and syrupy yet there are hints of balsamic vinegar or tamarind in the flavour. It does not really have a strong taste as in fresh garlic. It is a more mature and mellow flavour,” says Chef Irani.
In Tao mythology, black garlic was rumoured to grant immortality. Though there is no existing proof of this, its health benefits have been validated by science. The beneficial effects of garlic are supported by hundreds of studies which record its impact on various aspects of cardiovascular health. Black garlic seems to have these in double the quantity without the flip side of regular garlic— the odour and pungent flavour.
It is also very interesting how black garlic came to the forefront of experimental cuisine. Chef Arzooman Irani elaborates, “Originally, only Asians used black garlic. Over a period of time, as more and more expats from various parts of the world visited Asia, they decided that this ingredient has potential in their own countries. In the United States, the use of black garlic began when Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco put it on their menu. Its popularity is also growing in England, with a special feature on television on the BBC’s ‘Something for the Weekend’ cooking and lifestyle program. In July 2009, black garlic was introduced in Australia by Oliveria, a store in Melbourne. In 2011, it was used on an episode of Food Network’s Chopped Champions. In September 2011, it was a mandatory ingredient in the final round of the second episode of Ron Ben-Israel’s Sweet Genius.”
Chefs all over the world have found an appeal in the clove of black garlic and there have been notable experiments with the flavour and texture of black garlic. Some have been drawn to the hints of chocolate and molasses, flavours that emerge as the bitterness is muted whereas some others work upon changing the dynamics of a dish by using black garlic in place of conventional roasted garlic.
Due to its mild taste and good water solubility, black garlic has been found to be suitable for a variety of food applications – both savoury and sweet. A pure form could also be used at home as a healthy snack or as an ingredient for savoury food preparations.
“At Taj West End, we have used black garlic in a variety of dishes,” says Chef Irani, continuing to add that these range from, “black garlic and vanilla pod pannacotta, to black garlic pesto, or the amazingly delicious black garlic ice cream. A whole pod of garlic has been favourably used as an accompaniment to an Angus Steak. The confit of tomatoes, with black garlic, has also found takers here amongst our regulars.” Chef Irani is of the opinion that it is a very versatile ingredient and can be used in starters, main course or the dessert. “One interesting use is making black garlic chocolate,” says Chef Irani.
Like raw garlic, the juice can be used as a delicious topping for your dishes. You can choose it to top up your salads and such.
So how popular has its use become in Indian kitchens. Chef Irani says, “It is not a very popular ingredient yet as the awareness about its existence is fairly low. There are only a handful of Chefs who know about it. It is mostly being used in Asian and Korean dishes. For the first time, we at VBTW are trying to introduce this new ingredient to our fellow Bangaloreans, and use it in various ways so that it has many combinations and can be used in a variety of cuisine types.”
Though black garlic seems to be generating its own fan following, there are non-believers as well. Nevertheless, chefs are experimenting with the flavours and textures of this unique ingredient and as long as the results are as scrumptious as Chef Irani’s Black Garlic and Vanilla Pod Pannacotta, we would simply say —Bring It On!
Chef : Arzooman Irani
Executive Chef : Vivanta by Taj- Whitefield,Bangalore
Text : Aanandika Sood
Images : Sanjay Ramchandran