Black garlic is the secret weapon your dinner needs
LIQUORICE, TAMARIND, balsamic, soy, coffee… These aren’t the tasting notes for a fine chianti or a bar of 90-percent-cocoa chocolate. They’re the flavours you might notice in black garlic, the tar-coloured cloves that have spent weeks in a low oven developing deeply caramelised characteristics that are completely different to the fresh bulb.
Slightly sticky, soft and very snackable (I can often pick up on the liquorice notes, but sometimes it’s chocolatey, too), black garlic is having a moment, starring on restaurant menus around the country and in products as wideranging as they are award-winning: mayonnaise, beer, ice cream, teriyaki sauce, ketchup. The last, by Hawkshead Relish, recently won its fifth gong since launching in April 2017 and can be sloshed on to bacon sandwiches or into casseroles for a deep umami flavour.
As for the cloves themselves, producers in this country are few and far between. Black garlic is popular in Korea, which is where Katy Heath of Balsajo first imported it from, before starting to make it herself. She now supplies restaurants and producers around the country, as does South West Garlic Farm in Dorchester.
Fresh garlic, unpeeled and still in its crown, is given at least three weeks (sometimes six) at 60-80C, during which (thanks to the Maillard reaction, the holy-grail browning process of seared steak) the amino acids and sugar react and release different flavour compounds – those dark, sweet, earthy tones, which leave no garlic breath (promise). It’s good for you, too, with more antioxidants than the non-aged stuff. Chop into salads, slice over scrambled egg, or nibble a couple of cloves a day, neat.