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Singapore has seen food fads aplenty. There was the avocado toast favoured by Millennials. There was rainbow food where every conceivable food came in multi-coloured hues including bagels, cakes, latte and even cheese. Let us not forget salted egg yolk everything from croissants to ice-cream. Then, there is bubble tea which faded away only to enjoy a new lease of life recently. Few of these food fads can lay claim to having health benefits, though. Black garlic, however, can. Although this flavouring agent has been around thousands of years, it was popularised in 2008 when it was used in a challenge on Iron Chef America Season 7 and then again in Top Chef New York where it was added to a sauce to accompany monkfish.
Since then, black garlic has appeared in restaurant menus all over the world. One restaurant in Singapore even introduced a limited 6-course menu centred around black garlic. There is udon flavoured with black garlic oil, and burgers and risotto featuring black garlic.
But what is black garlic and why is it good for you?
Black garlic is whole bulbs of fresh garlic fermented at high temperatures (66º to 77º Celsius) under high humidity (70% to 90%) for weeks and even months. This turns the white garlic cloves black through a series of nonenzymatic browning reactions. The result is a darkened garlic that has a syrupy sweetness not unlike molasses and a sticky chewiness not found in raw garlic. More delicate tasting and with a milder aroma than raw garlic, black garlic can be used in recipes that call for garlic or eaten on its own.
Black garlic has been used in Asian countries like Thailand, South Korea, and Japan for several thousand of years. Some say it originated in Korea while others say Japan. In Japan, black garlic is called kuro ninniku.
Most people know the health benefits of garlic but it was Japanese researcher Professor Jin-ichi Sasaki who first made known the benefits of black garlic, contributing to its popularity. Since then, many studies and clinical trials have been carried out to look into the benefits of black garlic.
Antioxidants are useful because they fight free radicals that damage cells, DNA and protein; strengthen our immunity; and prevents toxicity of drugs. Raw garlic contains antioxidants but when garlic is fermented, the amount of antioxidants generated increases 10-fold. These antioxidants also become more easily absorbed.
In addition, black garlic reduces an unstable compound known as allicin and turns it into stable compounds that are antioxidants. Black garlic also contains higher concentrations of S-Allycysteine (SAC) than white garlic and SAC helps to absorb allicin.
The caveat is that much of the studies are limited to cell and animal studies. More clinical trials are needed to determine black garlic’s antioxidant benefits on humans.
Black garlic is thought to help fight cancer, inhibiting the growth of tumours and the invasion of the disease in the body. Research has been done on cells of colon cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer and leukaemia. More work needs to be done to study the effects on animals and human.
Black garlic reduces inflammation, lowering the number of cells that cause inflammation and cell damage. In a cell study using immune cells, black garlic decreased the production of chemicals that promote inflammation by decreasing various protein and enzyme levels. Larger clinical trials are needed to determine whether there will be positive effects on humans.
In animal and cell studies, black garlic can decrease the markers of allergies and prevent allergic reactions. There have been no human studies yet.
Black garlic balances blood sugar levels. Researchers found that the high amounts of antioxidants in black garlic prevents complications from diabetes. When black garlic juice was fed to insulin-deficient mice, they experienced a reduction in harmful reactive substances that cause damage to the blood, liver and kidney.
Black garlic also reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides levels which, if left unchecked, may lead to increased risks of heart disease. In a 12-week study of 60 people, half were given 6 grams of black garlic twice a day before meals. Their HDL or good cholesterol levels rose compared to the other half of the people who received placebos. However, there was no change to their LDL or bad cholesterol.
Black garlic also relaxes blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. In another study, 79 patients with high blood pressure took either two or four black garlic tablets daily for 12 weeks. Their average blood pressure dropped by 11.8mm Hg.
Black garlic is said to be good for maintaining memory because its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce inflammation in the brain and help block cognitive conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Black garlic may improve liver health. In a study, rats with liver damage were treated with black garlic which significantly lowered markers of liver injury. Black garlic was also found to increase the normal activity and metabolism of the liver as well as decrease fatty liver deposits.
Black garlic has prominent lipid and weight-lowering ingredients. In a 2015 study, diets that included 1.5% black garlic extract reduced weight as well as decreased kidney and epididymal fat.
The best way to benefit from LAB is to eat food with them.
You can get black garlic from Huber’s Butchery to add to your dishes at home. They are best added to salads, vinaigrette and dressing to enhance the flavour of your food.
You can down black garlic capsules. Swanson 100% Natural Aged Japanese Black Garlic is rich in phosphorus, manganese, calcium and selenium as well as vitamins B6 and C. Black Gold Black Garlic Capsules uses top-grade organic garlic and is water-soluble, making it easily absorbed by the body.
You can drink your black garlic. Eu Yan Sang Black Garlic Essence contains the equivalent of 25 cloves of black garlic per bottle. It uses only the finest famous Amori garlic from Japan.
Tamoya Udon and Tempura has a Black Garlic Tonkotsu Udon that is drizzled with black garlic oil which gives the broth a distinct flavour. Ramen Champion offers Black Garlic Ramen that adds a sweetness to the dish. At Menya Musashi, the black garlic oil turns its ramen broth into a bowl of inky goodness.