Black garlic: a secret superfood

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

Black garlic has been around for some time, but it deserves more attention, especially in terms of our health. This fermented food can help to stimulate a healthy gut. Chaja van Boesschoten dives into the qualities of this highly nutritional ‘super’ food, discovering why it is actually fermented.

Black garlic - fresh white garlic that's undergone an exposure to high temperatures and high humidity (more on this later) - seems to have stronger health benefits than white garlic. Research suggests it may be helpful against heart diseases, supporting the immune system and stimulating healthy digestion. Despite this, it's rarely seen in European kitchens.

Before we dive into it, it’s worth noting that there’s debate about whether black garlic is actually fermented, or just caramelised. But what's the truth?

Here, we take a look at what the science says. Is black garlic truly fermented? And is it really a superfood? Let’s find out!

The science of black garlic

The chemistry of black garlic starts with the whole bulb of fresh garlic (Allium sativum). It transforms into black garlic in a closed environment with a controlled high temperature (60-90ºC) and controlled high humidity (80-90%).

This process turns the garlic black via different non-enzymatic browning reactions of which the Maillard reaction is one. The Maillard reaction is responsible for the creation of different flavour combinations in each type of food. It's a chemical effect wherein the amino acids and reducing sugars of any organic heated food react with each other to give food its distinctive colour and taste.

In this transformative process, garlic needs 65 days to turn black and 48 to dry. This enhances its strengths and benefits. This indicates, and as research shows, that black garlic goes beyond the Maillard reaction and that the fermenting process is not spontaneous but controlled.

From the existing research available, there currently seems to be more evidence that black garlic is fermented. Another factor that supports this is the natural presence of fungal bacteria, called endophytes, that are found in both white and black garlic and that are needed for the fermentation process to occur.

What is fermentation exactly?

All life on earth depends on micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses that live in the fertile soil in which plants grow and which should therefore give humans and animals healthy food.

Fermentation is a natural interaction of the enzymatic processes between various bacteria and the food itself. These incredibly tiny miracles convert certain nutrients into antioxidants and vitamins.

Moreover, when you ferment food, the process also deactivates particular harmful compounds that occur naturally in food items.

Fermented food contains active nutrients and makes digestion easier. Throughout history this has been known and different cultures have been fermenting food from one generation to another.

Given our healthy gut contains around 300-500 different types of bacteria, we need to stimulate the healthy bacteria that improve and restore this whole gut flora. A healthy gut protects against many diseases. Fermented organic food has the qualities of probiotics and helps to support our gut flora.

Aged garlic

Black garlic is also called aged garlic, but let’s use age differently here to have a look at the history of both white and black garlic. There are texts saying that black garlic was invented 4000 years ago; other texts state that it was invented at the end of the 19th century. However, for sure ‘normal’ white garlic has been around for centuries and has been used for general health and against many diseases.

Garlic got used in all different ways from raw to even fermented. It was used for instance against diarrhea, colon inflammation, whooping cough, cholera and to heal wounds. White garlic also played a big role in trade, it got used as aphrodisiac and to create magic potions.

Black garlic seems to have its origin in Asia, especially in Thailand, Japan and Korea and has become a health product.

Popularity of black garlic

Fermentation of garlic improves the nutrient composition, bio-activities and the value of flavour and taste.

Black garlic has an almost double effective anti-oxidant impact, because of the transformation from allicin to S-allyl cysteine. This allows for the body to better absorb the anti-oxidants and to stimulate a lighter digestion.

Allicin produces the sharp and strong odour associated with white garlic. Through the fermentation process, a sweeter smell appears. The flavour also becomes sweeter and softer, which gives black garlic a similar taste as balsamic, tamarind and liquorice.

A social benefit is that black garlic will leave a fresher breath than white garlic!

It is only in the 1940s that science has started to discover evidence of the benefits of garlic and since then, the list of health benefits has increased tremendously. In terms of black garlic, research is ongoing in establishing its health benefits, however black garlic becomes more potent for health protection than in its fresh form.

Research suggests that garlic has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It also may help to reduce the risk of heart attacks, and may even have anti-cancer properties.

If using black garlic, please check the packaging for the recommended daily intake. If you have any concerns or questions in regards to black garlic, please chat to a nutritionist or dietician.

Culinary uses

Experts say that black garlic is such a tasty and beneficial versatile ingredient compared to its more potent origins as white garlic. It makes dishes sweeter and gives them a deeper flavour.

As said, it has long been used in Asian cooking and in Korea black garlic has become a health product that is sometimes added to energy-boosting drinks. In other parts of the world, black garlic is used to make chocolate!

In the US, chefs have started using it for delicious cuisine. Israeli-British chef Ottolenghi is also a fan of black garlic, using it in many of his recipe.

Start exploring this fermented superfood by adding it to dressings, soup, energy drinks, pasta sauce, hummus… you name it.

Just a word of caution here. It is better to buy black garlic instead of making it yourself, because professionally fermented garlic has been produced within controlled conditions, whereas at home, there is the risk of a particular bacterium being released that produces a very toxic substance.

It is interesting to explore black garlic just for its sweet and soft taste, but it is even more fascinating that it can be regarded as a fermented food that has at least similar health benefits as raw white garlic. It seems more than deserving of the title of superfood.


About Chaja

Chaja van Boesschoten is a Hatha yoga teacher, international social project manager and started recently as a digital writer. She has become so captivated by the knowledge of yoga science and the immense possibilities of the breath, that her life has become devoted to yoga. Chaja was born in The Netherlands, she is married to a Scottish man and has two sons who were born in two different countries. She now lives in Italy and finds it beautiful to use the knowledge of different languages and experiences to transmit yoga. Yoga is available to everyone, but she se the importance to bring it to people who are possibly unaware of it, to people who live in socially vulnerable situations, to people suffering mentally (as a consequence of the pandemic e.g.) and to influencers.

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