Black garlic, made by Erhardt and Elizma Joubert on a property in Nilgen, is the result of fresh garlic being kept in a temperature and humidity-controlled oven for up to 40 days. The process transforms the garlic into a soft, sweet, darkened product which can be eaten straight from the bulb, something few would be brave enough to attempt with its raw counterpart.
Elizma and Erhardt were first made aware of black garlic in 2010. “We just stumbled upon it from a friend of ours, who had heard about its popularity in America. Erhardt started digging into anything he could find about black garlic,” says Elizma
Black garlic most likely originated in Korea. It is believed to have been formulated as a health product, so people could experience the immunity benefits of garlic – its sweetness making it much easier to consume — with no strong after taste or odour. The health benefits of fresh garlic are well known. It is a nutrient powerhouse with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Allicin is the active compound responsible for most of these benefits, and black garlic has a much higher content of allicin than fresh garlic.
The Joubert family have been growing garlic for eight years, starting with just five bulbs and no experience in growing this particular crop. “We were market gardeners in South Africa, but never grew garlic,” said Elizma. “About 8 years ago Erhardt received some seed garlic from an Italian neighbour. He looked at it and said, ‘We’re not going to finish this before it goes off, so let’s plant it.’
“Every year we planted what we didn’t eat. Garlic is generous – it gives you far more than what you plant – you plant one clove, you get 10 back. Every year we planted a bit more,” said Elizma.
The growing process provided plenty of challenges, not least being the lack of information specific to garlic.
“It was trial and error – plenty of errors!” says Elizma. “When you look for advice on how to grow garlic, there is no single program for garlic – all the information is based on onions. They say they are the closest relation, so what works for the onion should work for the garlic,” she continues.
This was not always the case, and understandably Erhardt and Elizma are keeping their hard-won growing secrets under wraps. “Every year you learn from the previous, and it gets better every year. Last season was by far our best,” says Elizma. “After eight years of perfecting the process Erhardt said to me ‘Now I know why the old garlic growers will never give away their secrets!’” she laughs.
The process of making black garlic is quite a time-intensive affair. With the crop in the ground for approximately seven months, there is an additional one month of drying the garlic, then up to forty days in the purpose-built oven, which Erhardt constructed himself.
So, what does it taste like? The ageing process removes the brute taste of raw garlic, and leaves you with a sweet, caramelised product that lingers in flavour, with an undertone of balsamic vinegar. It is truly an experience to peel away the dried skin of a clove and reveal the soft, dark garlic hidden underneath. The addition of black garlic to a tasting platter not only provides a lovely accompaniment to cheese and charcuterie items, but a solid talking point around such a curious product.