Black garlic looks a bit like a cooking mistake that should be thrown away instead of eaten. But this specially aged garlic not only tastes unique and amazing, but it has amazing superfood powers as well.
Black garlic was used centuries ago in Asian cuisine, but it has been ‘discovered’ here in the western world and it has become a favorite secret ingredient amongst chefs, home cooks and health fanatics.
Black garlic is made from Allium sativum, which is the regular garlic we all know and use. Black garlic, however, is aged with specific heat and humidity for several weeks, which changes the flavor and intensifies its health benefits.
Regular raw, white garlic cloves when aged turn almost black and become soft, sticky, and gooey, much like richer roasted garlic. The heat process takes the sharp flavor of raw garlic to a much mellower flavor—more like a molasses-caramel flavor that tastes both sweet and savory.
The aging of garlic converts the harsh, irritating compounds in raw garlic–such as allicin, to stable, unique, and beneficial compounds. Allicin is one of the key compounds found in raw garlic that’s responsible for many of its health benefits and its distinct biting taste.
However, raw garlic is also lower in antioxidants, and studies show that black garlic actually contains concentrated amounts of these disease-fighting compounds.
1. Black Garlic is High in Antioxidants
We hear about antioxidants all the time in many healthy foods. Antioxidants help stop or slow down free radicals that cause damage to our cells and can lead to chronic disease. This review, published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, discusses black garlic’s antioxidant powers on the human body.
This study shows that aged garlic creates a marked increase in antioxidant activity, peaking at about 21 days. What causes this dramatic antioxidant increase?
During the aging process, the active ingredient in garlic, allicin, converts to more powerful antioxidants. This fermentation process concentrates the antioxidants in the garlic. These antioxidants can regulate cell signaling, reduce inflammation, protect the brain and nerves, prevent heart attacks and strokes, help prevent the long-term complications of diabetes and fight cancer.
2. Brain Health
Black garlic’s powerful antioxidants help to lower inflammation in the brain, which helps prevent common diseases of aging such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Most neuroscientists follow the theory that the accumulation of a protein compound called ‘beta amyloid’ causes the inflammation in the brain with Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Immune Health
We are probably very aware of the importance of our immune systems. Our complex immune systems fight off viral infections, bacteria, and other pathogens. Our immune systems also work to prevent cancer and fight other chronic diseases as well.
Antioxidants fight free radicals which reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system, and prevent oxidative damage to your cells. We’ve known that regular raw garlic is a very powerful tool for our immune function, but a 2012 study compare black garlic and raw garlic on immune function. Black garlic had more powerful effect on stimulating the immune system and increasing antioxidant activity.
Black garlic’s immune-boosting effects may help those with allergies and autoimmune disorders, as well as those fighting off acute illnesses.
4. Toxic to Cancer Cells
In addition to strengthening the immune system, black garlic’s antioxidants show strong anticarcinogenic effects on cancer cells. Certain components in black garlic have been shown to inhibit tumor growth and spread of cancer cells. This 2014 study shows black garlic extract kills off and reduces the growth of colon cancer cells.
Researchers found that the black garlic extract solution was toxic to lung, breast, stomach, and liver cancer cells within 72 hours. Other studies have found that black garlic caused cancer cells to start dying off in human colon and stomach cancers. And this study shows it causes cancer cell death in leukemia as well.
And this meta review of 25 different studies on black garlic showed beneficial effects on cancer in almost all of the studies.
5. Heart Health
Garlic has had a long-standing reputation of protecting the heart and being a big player in preventing heart disease. Black garlic’s high level of antioxidants show at least as much promise as raw garlic in protecting against disease.
Two hallmarks of heart disease risk are an elevated LDL cholesterol level, and elevated triglycerides. Studies show black garlic has the ability to lower these dangerous markers for heart disease, and raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
Another study compared raw garlic with black garlic on rats recovering from heart damage from heart attacks. Researchers found both types of garlic helped to increase blood flow and circulation to the heart and were equally effective in minimizing damage to the heart from ischemia.
Yet another study was conducted on 60 people who had elevated cholesterol. The study subjects were given either black garlic extract or a placebo for 12 weeks. The black garlic increased the HDL (good) cholesterol and reduced other heart disease markers.
People who consumed black garlic daily for 6 months increased their antioxidant levels, while improving other heart health indicators, over those who were given a placebo.
So, it’s apparent that black garlic is an effective preventative for heart disease, and can lower LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides. Black garlic may also help to increase levels of HDL cholesterol.
6. Lowers Blood Sugar
Long-term, chronic higher than normal blood glucose is one of the primary reasons those with diabetes end up with serious complications involving the eyes, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, and skin.
When certain proteins or fat combine with excess glucose in the blood, Advanced Glycation End products are the result. High levels of these damaging substances have been shown to cause excessive oxidative stress and inflammation. This excessive oxidative stress and inflammation increases the risk for serious complications in diabetes patients.
In fact, high levels of AGE’s have been linked to the development of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, and Alzheimer’s, as well as premature aging.
Aged black garlic and a component of aged garlic S-allyl cysteine have been shown to significantly reduce the formation of AGE’s and therefore help to prevent many of the complications of diabetes.
Aged garlic extract inhibits the formation of AGEs more effectively than fresh garlic extract, and this suggests that daily consumption of aged garlic extract might be beneficial for prevention of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes.
This study also reported that aged black garlic exerted stronger antioxidant activity against oxidative stress from diabetes, thereby helping to prevent diabetic complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy.
Adding black garlic to a healthy diet also helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels, according to another study from Korea.
Other studies on rats show black garlic to have very beneficial effects for those with obesity or diabetes. Researchers in Spain found that black garlic lowered inflammation and improved vascular function, as well as helping to reduce weight gain.
7. Supports Liver Health
Our livers are constantly exposed to a wide variety of toxic chemicals, medications, pathogens, and even alcohol. The liver performs a vital role in metabolism of substances, secretion of bile, creating cholesterol, and the detoxification of substances in the body. Poor dietary habits and lifestyle can cause prolonged exposure to oxidative stress and free radicals which can accelerate the severity of liver damage.
Black garlic may protect the liver from the damage that comes from these toxins in the liver.
Black garlic has also been found to protect the liver against any further damage, such as in the case of non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome.
Black garlic antioxidants were also found to be protective and improve liver function in cases of chronic alcohol-induced liver damage.
Research from 2018 also suggests that supplementing with single-clove black garlic extract could help restore liver tissue and reduce cellular damage of liver.
Where to Get Black Garlic?
Black garlic has become very popular lately and can be found in specialty cooking stores, gourmet grocery stores, and in some Asian markets. It’s also readily available online.
Black garlic comes in whole heads, peeled cloves and as black garlic infused oil. You can also purchase powdered black garlic, but the health effects will be greatly reduced.
Black garlic is rather expensive, so if you would rather, you can make your own at home. The key is to create just the right temperature and humidity levels. To age garlic, it must be fermented at 140-190 degrees F under high humidity levels for about 3-4 weeks.
One of the easiest ways to make black garlic is with a home rice cooker. Putting garlic in the rice cooker on the keep warm setting with a lid for 4 weeks will produce a well-aged, high antioxidant mellow black garlic.
Use it in dishes as you would with roasted garlic — added to sauces, smeared on fresh bread, rubbed into wild fish, or mixed in with pasta dish and high quality olive oil. Black garlic can also be pureed into a paste with olive oil and used on salads and marinades—or mix it up in a food processor with a stick of butter for use on a variety of dishes. Black garlic is delicious mixed into humous and other dips as well. Black garlic is even mellow enough to use in desserts like cookies, ice cream and brownies.
Invite your friends over for dinner and everyone will be wondering what delicious ‘secret’ ingredient is in your meal.