By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Add "black" to the many ways we're taking our garlic.
In relatively short order, black garlic has morphed from obscure dietary supplement to trendy top-chef ingredient. Here's how:
Inventor Scott Kim began developing the product in South Korea in 2004. His goal originally was to market aged or fermented black garlic as a super-food: Its patented, month-long heat-curing process creates a high level of antioxidants and a natural cancer-preventing compound. Forms of fermented garlic have long been eaten for health reasons in Korea and Japan.
Kim formed a company called Black Garlic Inc. last year, bringing on John Yi, a longtime garlic producer. Based in Hayward, Calif., the company is the sole manufacturer and supplier in the United States. Heads of garlic grown on Jeju Island, South Korea, are used, but Kim plans to process California-grown garlic soon as well.
A year before Kim's company was up and running, Bruce Hill, executive chef and part-owner of Bix restaurant in San Francisco, tried black garlic for the first time in Kyoto, Japan. A friend and fellow chef piped beads of black garlic paste around a composed vegetable and chicken salad and used it in a tapenade.
Hill, a Bethesda native who also co-owns Picco restaurant in Larkspur, Calif., loved the ingredient's complexity. "I'd heard of it before," he says. "It lends itself to Mediterranean flavors . . . things like roasted peppers and olives."
Tastewise, black garlic offers a slightly sweet, licorice twist and a chewy texture. Its garlic flavor and aroma are present but diminished.
Hill tracked down a supplier, who happened to be Kim. "I think we were the first to use it" culinarily in the area, the chef says. Other chefs picked up on it quickly; Matthias Merges, executive chef at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, tagged it as one of his top five food finds in the December 2008 issue of Restaurant News, a trade publication. Black garlic became a big-hit item for Le Sanctuaire.com, an upscale gourmet foods purveyor, and was sold by specialty trade purveyors such as Terra Spice Co. and Italco. The famous New York seafood restaurant Le Bernardin uses it in a spiced monkfish dish that was highlighted on a recent episode of Bravo's "Top Chef: New York." Jeremy Fox, executive chef at Ubuntu in Napa, drizzles drops of pureed black garlic on his fingerling potato salad (see recipe on this page).
Food blogs are now abuzz about black garlic, and Kim says demand is growing. A 1.27-ounce package costs about $3.50. To order, contact the company at 310-623-7063 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to http://www.blackgarlic.com for more information.