Developed in Korea, black garlic has been gaining popularity among Western foodies for several years now, but it has recently caught the eye of the health-minded due to studies revealing its impressive nutritional properties. Black garlic is produced by “fermenting” whole bulbs of fresh garlic in a humidity-controlled environment in temperatures of about 140 to 170 degrees F for 30 days.
No additives, no preservatives… just pure garlic. Once out of the heat, the bulbs are then left to oxidize in a clean room for 45 days. This lengthy process causes the garlic cloves to turn black and develop a soft, chewy texture with flavors reminiscent of “balsamic vinegar” and “soy sauce,” with a sweet “prune-like” taste. Aficionados claim the flavor will impress even the most avid garlic-hater, as the pungency and spiciness is gone.
Although the process is consistently described as “fermentation,” it really isn’t that in the strictest sense, as the transformation does not involve microbial processes—specifically, enzymatic breakdown and the Maillard Reaction are responsible for the caramelization of the sugars, dark color and deep, complex flavor profile.6 As the pearly white cloves slowly transition into their final black appearance, compounds in the fresh garlic transform into a whole new range of compounds. Compared to fresh garlic, black garlic is low in alliin but it is astonishingly high in other antioxidants!
Double the Antioxidants of Fresh Garlic
In a 2009 mouse study, Japanese researchers found that black garlic was more effective than fresh garlic in reducing the size of tumors. The study was published in the journal Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Science and Technology.7 In another study, black garlic was found to have twice the antioxidant levels as fresh—the aging/fermenting process appears to double the antioxidants. Black garlic is packed with high concentrations of sulfurous compounds, especially one in particular: s-allylcycteine (SAC).8 Science has shown a number of health benefits from SAC, including inhibition of cholesterol synthesis.9
Perhaps this is why Mandarin oil painter Choo Keng Kwang experienced a complete reversal of his psoriasis after just four days of eating half a bulb of black garlic a day—this, after trying countless medically prescribed skin creams that were all complete failures.
An advantage of SAC is that it is well-absorbed and much more stable than allicin and 100 percent bioavailable. Researchers are confident it plays a significant role in garlic’s overall health benefits.10 Be mindful, however, that black garlic’s benefits may be more effective than fresh garlic for some conditions but not others, given its allicin content is low. For example, I suspect it may not be as effective if you have an infection, as allicin is thought to be the primary anti-infective agent in garlic, and fresh garlic is higher in allicin than black.
Do you toss your garlic into the compost pile when it begins sending up those bright green shoots? You might want to stop doing that after you read the most recent report about sprouted garlic. In an article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, garlic sprouted for five days was found to have higher antioxidant activity than fresher, younger bulbs, and it had different metabolites, suggesting it also makes different substances.
Researchers concluded that sprouting your garlic might be a useful way to improve its antioxidant potential. Extracts from this garlic even protected cells in a laboratory dish from certain types of damage. This isn’t really surprising when you consider the nutritional changes that typically occur in plants when they sprout. When seedlings grow into green plants, they make many new compounds, including those that protect the young plant against pathogens. The same thing is likely happening when green shoots grow from old heads of garlic.
Growing your own sprouts is a great way to boost your nutrition, especially if you have limited space for gardening. Sprouted seeds of various kinds can contain up to 30 times the nutrition of homegrown organic vegetables and allow your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the foods you eat. If you want more information, please refer to our earlier article about sprouting. While you can sprout a variety of different beans, nuts, seeds, and grains, sprouts in general have the following beneficial attributes:
- Support for cell regeneration
- Powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes that protect against free radical damage
- Alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic)
- Abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses, and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment
Black Garlic or White, They’re Both Good
Whether you choose to go raw or adventure into the black, you can’t go wrong with garlic. It gives new meaning to the term “heart healthy food”! And garlic goes with just about everything. You can smother your roasting chicken with it, sauté it with veggies, add it to your salad dressing, or run it right through your juicer along with the other veggies for a real immune-booster. Whatever form of garlic you prefer, you can have some fun experimenting as you widen your culinary repertoire, and build your health at the same time!