While garlic has been used for centuries to flavour food, black or aged garlic only emerged in the 1990s, as a result of research by Japanese professor Jin-Ichi Sasaki.
Though it differs in name and appearance, botanically-speaking it is the same as traditional garlic (Allium sativum). It’s simply an aged version of it, in which heads of garlic are left to ferment in a contained environment, at a gentle heat (60°-90°C) and high humidity (70%-90%).
Over a period of 2 to 5 weeks, the garlic cloves become soft and candied, encased in a prune-like charcoal-coloured skin. This metamorphosis is the result of a large number of biochemical changes (1).
Top chefs were quick to adopt this unusual ingredient, enthusing over its umamiflavour (the ‘5th taste’) with elements of balsamic vinegar and liquorice. The ageing process removes all the pungency of classic garlic, making it even more digestible. This is due to its much-reduced content of allicin (the molecule responsible for ‘garlic breath’) (2).
Interest in black garlic extends beyond the culinary world to the scientific community. The ageing process actually generates beneficial new compounds over and above the well-established properties of white garlic. Let’s take a look at its specific characteristics.
White garlic already has remarkable antioxidant properties but fermenting it significantly enriches its nutritional profile.
Several studies have, in particular, found black garlic to have significantly higher levels of polyphenols, phenolic compounds (3-4 times higher) and flavonoids (2-8 times higher) than its fresh counterpart (3-5).
Aged garlic is especially notable for its exceptional content of S-allyl cysteine, an organosulfur compound thought to account for many of its health benefits (6-7): while this compound is indeed present in white garlic, the black form is believed to contain 3-6 times more!
At the same time, the garlic-ageing process produces very powerful molecules not present in the white version: hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and melanoidins (8-9). These are compounds of the Maillard or browning reaction that give aged garlic its dark brown colour.
Like the fresh form, black garlic supports cardiac, vascular and vein health (10).
A number of studies have investigated its effects on subjects with hypertension. Consumption of black garlic over several weeks was found to modulate various key markers such as arterial stiffness, systolic blood pressure and pulse waves (11).
Animal studies have explored black garlic’s interaction with the renin-angtiotensin system, which plays a key role in regulating cardiovascular and renal function (12).
Aged garlic also seems to reduce platelet aggregation, a process involved in the formation of blood clots (13).
Both black and white garlic have an artery-protective effect, helping to maintain healthy blood lipids including normal cholesterol levels (14). The more phytonutrient-rich fermented version may be particularly effective.
By way of example, in one study on subjects with mild hypercholesterolaemia, mineral-vitamin supplementation enriched with black garlic resulted in a rebalancing of the lipid profile. There were significant variations in levels of high-density lipoproteins (‘good cholesterol’) and of apolipoprotein B (a ‘bad cholesterol’ carrier) (15).
If it’s effective at driving away vampires, garlic also acts as a natural shield in supporting immune health and protecting the body against bacteria.
Scientists recently investigated the effects of black garlic on certain inflammatory and immune markers such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), in obese subjects and diabetic rats (16-17). Their findings open up new perspectives for this ingredient with yet more benefits to be discovered.
You can of course use aged garlic to add flavour to your dishes, but take care not to heat it so as to preserve its valuable nutrients. However, to benefit from it in a more concentrated form, consider taking a black garlic supplement.
To help you choose the right one, look closely at the product’s content of active principles, such as S-allyl cysteine and melanoidins, both of which are a good gauge of optimal efficacy (the supplement Organic ABG10+®, for example, is based on an organic black garlic extract with 0.1% S-allyl cysteine, the highest level currently available, and with its high melanoidin content, offers on average 10 times more antioxidant activity than other black garlic supplements on the market).
Depending on your particular focus, other natural compounds can act synergistically with black garlic extract.
For blood pressure problems, an excellent option would be to also take potassium (which helps maintain normal blood pressure) and hawthorn (which supports normal cardiovascular function (18-19). Certain supplements offer this highly-effective combo (the innovative formulation Tensix combines potassium and hawthorn with other natural ingredients such as celery seeds and fish peptides).
Pantethine, a specific derivative of vitamin B5, is showing promise in the field of lipid metabolism (you can find it in the patented supplement Pantethine, the result of many decades’ research) (20).
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