Black garlic is regular garlic treated with heat that gets its name from the color. It is often misunderstood as fermented, but it is "deeply caramelized garlic... [from] a slow sugar break down over time." Although I've seen it touted as a popular health food full of antioxidants in Korea since its introduction in 2004, and often mentioned as a chefs' choice ingredent, it still seemed more exotic than common in the U.S. I finally realized that black garlic has reached mainstream at least in my little world when I saw black garlic everywhere around me, it seemed, within a few months. I was happy to see it used as a sauce on a beautiful crayfish dish at Moments in Barcelona last November, and I was equally amazed when I saw it being sold at Trader Joe's in Manhattan. I hear you can also find black garlic in Dean & Deluca, too.
Companies that specialize in black garlic production have a long, careful process of keeping garlic heated at a constant temperature of about 60C/140F degrees for weeks, then for some, drying it out for another few weeks. And you can see the process reflected on the hefty prices. But with its popularity in Korea, it's easy to find clips on the internet about how to make black garlic at home using a rice cooker. Since rice cooker is a staple kitchen item in Korea, this means that basically everyone can make black garlic at home - IF anyone wanted to.
In an effort to find a new use for my old rice cooker, I've gathered information on the internet and followed the most common direction as listed in the recipe below along with my own way of drying it out for a week. I also found other minor details with different opinions on the internet. Some said to leave the garlic in the rice cooker for 10 to 15 days. Some say never to open the rice cooker, others say it's okay. As it is widely seen as a medicinal food item in Korea, I've also seen a recommended dose of 5 cloves a day for adults but then, as much as a whole bulb of garlic a day from another blog.
What I failed to notice from various blog posts and clips of TV programs in Korea which came back to haunt me soon after I pressed the 'Keep Warm' button on my rice cooker was the smell factor. (See ! WARNING ! at the bottom of this post.)
Before I scare you with the smell during the process, I'm happy to tell you that the end result of homemade black garlic really is delicious. It is sweet, savory, tart, and earthy. Each garlic clove is a pleasantly soft, chewy jelly that reminds me of a cross between caramelized onion and balsamic vinegar.
I've been savoring 3-5 cloves a day, unwittingly following the random advice floating around on the internet, because it just happens to be the right amount to get my appetite up before meals. I've thought about adding it as an ingredient for another dish or cooking up a black garlic dish, but the few I have are too precious to experiment with, at least for my first batch.
After all, I decided it's worth making black garlic at home. I'll probably leave it for about 2 weeks in the rice cooker for my next batch (and gradually increase the duration each time) and see if the taste and texture develop differently. I just won't be making it too often, since the whole process takes about 20 days or more for one batch. I'm also glad that I found a new use for the old rice cooker. It is now my precious black garlic maker which sits on a table next to the window.
BLACK GARLIC IN RICE COOKER
Whole garlic bulbs (preferably organic - why not?)
Rice cooker with 'Keep Warm' function
Place the rice cooker in an area with good ventilation (near a window). Peel the outer skin of garlic so that you can see the separation of garlic cloves. Put whole garlic bulbs in one layer in a rice cooker. Close the lid on the rice cooker and press the button 'Keep Warm.' Leave it as is for 9 days.
After 9 days, turn off the rice cooker, take out the garlic bulbs and rest to let them come to room temperature. Peel - it's an easy process since the cloves are mostly separated from the skin at this point - and place the cloves on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with another parchment and air-dry in a cool area for a week. As a side note, I ended with about 80% of what I started with because I kept eating the garlic in the drying process.
Keep them refrigerated in a container.
! WARNING !
The fuming smell of raw garlic tested my will to go through with this process for the first couple of days. It started about an hour after I pressed 'Keep Warm' with a deceptively nice garlicky fragrance. Then it turned into something of a fuming, angry garlic monster that filled every air pocket in my apartment by the end of the first day. I tried to 'manage' it by leaving the window a tad open for ventilation at all times (mind you, this was January and this winter season wasn't so kind to us) and by keeping a scented candle on when I was home for the first two days. That helped, but I really wondered if it was worth going through with this just to get a few black garlic cloves.
Yet I made it through because I just wanted to try it at least once. I'm glad I did, because the smell subsided noticeably after 3 days. It seemed that every 3 days, there was a shift in the state of garlic just from its smell. After the first 3 days, the smell became more manageable (I assume partly because my whole body was infused with garlic smell by this point although no one would tell me so). After 6 days, I started to wonder with anticipation how good the black garlic would taste just from the change in smell. On the 9th day, I just knew it was time to dig in - I could smell that savory, tart, sweet balsamic vinegar in the air and I no longer needed a scented candle.
Window ventilation and a scented candle are necessities, not mere suggestions.
One more thing... this process leaves the rice cooker with an undeniable garlic stench. It might actually compliment rice if you make rice in it afterwards. But if you sometimes make cakes from your rice cooker like I do, it's nice to have an old rice cooker that can be designated as a black garlic maker.
I also recommend that you don't host any parties or invite over your significant other, especially if it's a relatively new relationship during this process. Maybe next time I make black garlic, I'll start right before I leave for a long weekend getaway.