(Image credit: Coco Morante)

For the last few months, I’ve been suspiciously eyeing the packages of black garlic at my neighborhood Trader Joe’s. As far as pantry ingredients go, it has a distinct air of mystery. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why is it black? How is it made? And most importantly, what on earth can I use it for? I’m so glad I finally got over my hesitation and brought some home — it turns out that it’s absolutely delicious!

(Image credit: Coco Morante)

Black garlic does not have any additives, and is not inoculated with any sort of culture or other fermenting agent. Its color comes from a several-weeks-long heating and drying process, wherein it slowly caramelizes and concentrates.

(Image credit: Coco Morante)

Peeling away the parchment-colored skin reveals glossy, midnight black cloves. They’re solid but soft, easily sliced thinly or blended into a sauce. The garlic has a smooth and silky texture and a mellow flavor, with a tangy note reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. There’s none of the usual sulfurous sting of fresh garlic, so it won’t give you garlic breath, even if you eat a whole clove or two.

But how to use it? I’ve been enjoying my black garlic sliced thinly and served on top of stir-fries, rice bowls, and cold soba noodle salads.

Next, I’m looking forward to incorporating it into vinaigrettes and sauces — I’m thinking it’d be wonderful blended with some rice vinegar and drizzled on top of sliced cucumbers and raw tofu for a summery first course.

Have you tried black garlic yet? What are your favorite uses for this unusual ingredient? We’d love to hear your ideas!