Wild Black Garlic

I pulled a ton of wild garlic out of my backyard recently. I made the mistake of cultivating* some of it after we moved in many years ago, as it spreads like crazy if you don’t pluck the flowers that bloom mid-June. I’ve also generally not found much use for it except very occasionally, since it’s much tougher and more fibrous than its domesticated relatives. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like there must be something I could do with all of it.

In the end, I didn’t use the greens, but I did sort out what to do with the tiny bulbs: black garlic! It’s so easy if you’ve got a standard cheap rice cooker and a temperature controller (though the second is mostly optional).

By keeping the garlic at a consistent temperature of 140°F/60°C for several weeks, all microorganisms are killed off* and enzyme activity is set into overdrive—it’s controlled autolysis, with the Maillard reaction as a byproduct. The rice cooker’s “keep warm” function generally keeps the temperature inside above 140°F/60°C, and pairing it with a temperature controller can keep it there fairly consistently. If you don’t have a temperature controller, you can still make black garlic in a cheap rice cooker. Just check it occasionally to ensure the temperature does not exceed 190°F/90°C.

The only other consideration is humidity, which needs to also be kept constant, otherwise the bulbs will dry out, but this can be overcome by simply sealing the garlic in a plastic bag or container.

Day 1 – 2021-05-12

  • 180g wild garlic bulbs, cleaned and trimmed of roots

I sealed my wild garlic bulbs in a vacuum bag. I’m not sure if it matters, but I did spread them out in a single layer. I’ve set a trivet in the rice cooker for the bag to sit on, so it is not in direct contact with the bottom heating element.

The temperature probe on my Inkbird temperature controller fits perfectly into the little hole in the rice cooker lid. I’ve set it on top of the bag of garlic. The controller is set to 140°F and the rice cooker is plugged into it, so it will turn the cooker off if the temperature gets above 140, and turns it on if it drops below.

Day 40 – 2021-06-13

After 40 days, the garlic in the bag is a deep brown, almost black color. I think it’s ready!

Tasting Notes

Wow. I wasn’t sure what to expect from wild garlic, but this is a treat. It’s straight-up sweet, maybe not like candy but certainly like fruit. There is a deep richness to the taste, a groundswell of earthy umami with the faintest hint of caramel bitterness.

It smells as it tastes, that is, not quite but almost like sweet caramelized garlic.

They are soft enough to squish between your fingers, but there is a slightly tougher skin on the outside.

Now I’m wondering if the greens could be put through the same process, since the fibrousness means I don’t use it much for other purposes. Surely 40 hot, humid days might transform them into something interesting?