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Yes, those garlic cloves (1, below) are really black.
That is real garlic you're looking at, and no, it's not a specific variety nor is it good garlic gone bad.
If you want to geek out on the non-microbial chemical and biochemical transformations that garlic undergoes when turning black, Lucky Peach is here for you; otherwise, the important takeaway is that the Maillard reaction—responsible for making "browned" foods like seared steak, dulce de leche, and perhaps our favorite, toast—is at work here, too.
(Are you thinking tasty, browned foods sound like caramelization? You’re right of course, but they are two distinct processes—caramelization doesn’t involve a reaction with amino acids like the Maillard reaction does.)
More: All of this caramelization talk making you hungry? Time for caramel cake.
If you buy black garlic (try a well-stocked grocery store), it will have cooked for a month or so (that’s not a typo) in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. When it's finished, the cloves will be dark brown or black, and the papery husks will be slightly darker as well (3 versus 2, above). If you’re patient, you can try making it yourself at home, either in a rice cooker, slow cooker, or dehydrator.
In an unopened package, black garlic can be stored at room temperature, but once opened, our friends at Frieda’s recommend storing it in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Black garlic has a soft, slightly chewy texture and a sweet—and unique—flavor. It’s described as tasting like all sorts of things: figs, dates, molasses, balsamic, beef bouillon, and garlic, too, of course. Whatever you think it tastes like, one thing is for sure: Black garlic is an umami bomb that you’ll want to start adding to all sorts of dishes.
Slice it and use it to top everything from salad, pizza, and pasta to meat and fish. Use it in dips and spreads like hummus and tapenade. Purée it and use it in aioli, vinaigrettes, and marinades. Follow Amanda Hesser's lead and turn it into a savory crumble for sprinkling over roasted vegetables.
Tell us: How do you like to use black garlic?
First two photos by Bobbi Lin, third photo by Mark Weinberg