By Carie Birkmeier  EBS Staff

If you favor deep, earthy, slightly funky flavors, black garlic might be a unique ingredient you would enjoy. Its origins come from Korea, but it has been gaining popularity in the U.S. for the past 10 years.

Many assume black garlic simply grows with a darker pigment as a variety of the lighter-colored plant familiar to us. It’s actually the result of cooking a whole bulb of garlic in a covered, humid environment at 140 degrees for four to six weeks. It’s then left out to cure for an additional two weeks.

Because of this long, warm process, many argue that black garlic is fermented, but because there is no oxygen involved, there are no bacteria or yeast present to produce a true fermentation. Regardless of specific terminology, the end result is very similar to something that has been fermented.

In some cases a clove of raw garlic can be too potent for certain applications, and this is where black garlic can be a nice substitute. During its long cooking process, the garlic cloves’s sugar is slowly broken down and caramelized, creating that very deep brown or black color. The trademark pungency of a raw clove of garlic has been mellowed and you’re left with a sweeter and stickier version of the original.

You can make black garlic yourself if you have the patience and tools necessary. Many swear by preparing the garlic in a rice cooker because of the humid environment and ability to cook at a low enough temperature. The product is still gaining popularity in the average grocery store, but you can find it on the internet at a number of online shops.

If strongly flavored cheeses, mushrooms or miso paste are staples in your pantry, black garlic might be right up your alley. If not, start by thinking of black garlic as a spice or seasoning, and incorporate it in ways you might use normal garlic, such as a marinade for meat or an addition to a vinaigrette. Because of its origins, it lends itself particularly well to Asian applications.

If you’re looking for something special to make your dinner guests wonder what that unique but delicious flavor is, black garlic might be your candidate.

Black Garlic, Ginger & Soy Marinade/Glaze

1 teaspoon fresh ginger root

2 black garlic cloves

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon seasame oil (optional)

The juice of half of a lime

1 tablespoon of a light flavored oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and the oil has emulsified. Alternatively, mince the ginger and garlic, and whisk all ingredients until emulsified—this will take a bit longer, though.

This glaze works great when paired with chicken, salmon or even vegetables. Split the mixture in half, using half to marinade the meat for an hour, and the other half to brush on periodically during the cooking process. The marinade will penetrate your main ingredient, while the glaze will become caramelized, creating a different flavor profile on the exterior.