While some snack on raw cloves like candy, others find its sharp bite and strong odor overpowering. However, the love-it and loathe-it camps unite when it comes to black garlic, an umami-packed super-ingredient famous for its complex molasses and aged balsamic vinegar flavors.
Black garlic is made by placing a whole head of garlic in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment for an extended period of time. While some use a rice cooker, others, like Peaceful Belly farm's Josie Erskine, wrap the garlic heads in paper and foil, then leave them in a dehydrator for a month at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. What emerges is totally transformed. Tar-black with a chewy texture, it has the complexity of a fine wine and none of the characteristic pungency of raw garlic.
"It has a very, very sweet taste, like a jam would," said Erskine. "But it has the qualities of a caramelized, very high-end balsamic vinegar with the aftertaste of very mild roasted garlic."
Erskine is experimenting with creating a more sustainable preparation method so she can sell black garlic at the Boise Farmers Market in August. She'll sell the cloves for $30 a pound, which is about 10 heads. In the meantime, you can sample black garlic at a few Boise-area restaurants, where chefs are utilizing the wonder ingredient in interesting ways.
At The Modern Hotel and Bar, Chef Nate Whitley uses black garlic to enrich an earthy shiitake mushroom kombu he ladles over seared sablefish with lentils and preserved lemon. The Modern also uses black garlic on its brunch menu in a beef demi-glace served with cauliflower grits, greens and a medium-rare steak.
"It's a really natural pairing because it enhances something that's already rich," said Whitley.
Though Whitley once made his own black garlic in a dehydrator with "relatively good success," he now sources the ingredient online. He says the concentrated flavor is unparalleled.
"You get a dark, caramely flavor—almost like a root beer flavor, really," said Whitley. "It just makes the flavor a lot more sweet and complex. And it looks really awesome, too. It's black and the texture is kind of tacky and sticky."
Chef Kris Komori at State and Lemp is also a big fan of black garlic, saying he loves the "sweet, minerally, almost metallic flavor that it brings forward." For the past two weeks, the restaurant has featured black garlic croutons made from dehydrated microwave cake on its late-night supper club menu.
"We use it a lot," said Komori. "Often it comes up in a puree with a bit of squid ink to emphasize the black color. It's great with so many other ingredients as well: pork, duck, red tannic fruits."
Erskine said her family likes to keep it simple when it comes to black garlic. They slather it on toast, sometimes using half a head in one sitting.
"I think it's a really interesting product for people to try," said Erskine. "It's fascinating to me the flavor that comes out. You're not doing anything—you're taking the full head and when you pull it out, you get this flavor that tastes like huge manipulation. So it's magic."