This Is the Absolute Best Way to Make Black Garlic at Home (Trust Me, I Tried Them All)

published Jan 30, 2021
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Credit: Jason Rampe

I absolutely love the flavor of black garlic, and over the past year or so, I’ve found myself buying it more frequently than ever. I add it to salad dressings, use it as a pizza topper, or simply spread it on toast. But one 3-ounce package costs almost $10, which got me thinking: Is it worth it to make black garlic at home?

Little did I know that this simple question would lead to a weeks-long adventure filled with potent smells, YouTube rabbit holes, and a lot of failed black garlic. But right when I was about to call it quits, I finally found a technique that worked — the only one I’ll ever use again. Here’s everything you need to know about making black garlic at home: what works, what doesn’t, and whether it’s even worth it. And to my neighbors who had to endure intense garlic odors emanating from my apartment: Thank you for your patience and sorry about all the smells.

Credit: Jason Rampe

But First, What Is Black Garlic?

Black garlic is garlic that has been aged over a period of time in a temperature- and humidity-controlled setting, creating a Maillard reaction that turns the garlic flesh black. The flavor becomes deeply savory and slightly sweet — reminiscent of savory molasses — and the texture changes, too. The edges of the cloves become dried but tender, and the center becomes moist, gelatinous, and almost chewy, similar to a Medjool date.

Black garlic has been growing in popularity at restaurants in the last few years, but it’s been used in some Asian cultures for centuries. It’s also rich in phytonutrients and other disease-fighting compounds, according to Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN.

Many people consider a dehydrator to be the best tool for making black garlic at home, but it’s not something most home cooks (myself included) own. YouTube tutorials of other techniques looked promising, but almost all of them required making several heads of black garlic at once. Even I don’t need that much! I was determined to know: What was the best way to make just a couple heads of black garlic at home using the equipment I already own?

Credit: Jason Rampe

First Up: The Instant Pot Method

I began with the Instant Pot technique, which is what started me down this rabbit hole in the first place. Was it really possible to make black garlic in a day, rather than a month? I followed this YouTube video, which instructed me to add peeled garlic cloves to a Mason jar, place the jar in the Instant Pot with a cup of water, and cook it on HIGH for six to eight hours.

After six hours, the garlic was slightly sooty, but not blackened. The texture was still very similar to raw garlic, without any of that squishy interior. I tried again with an eight-hour cook time, but the inner texture still didn’t reach that slightly gelatinous tender texture, and the flavor was nowhere near similar to the store-bought black garlic. I considered this test a fail and moved onto the next test: the slow cooker!

Credit: Jason Rampe

Round Two: The Slow Cooker Method

This time, using instructions from this YouTube video, I placed whole garlic heads in a turkey basting bag and cooked it in the slow cooker on LOW. Supposedly, I could leave it for a week, check on it, cook it for another week, and voila! I’d have black garlic.

Well, within three days my house was filled with such an intense garlic scent I had to lock my slow cooker in my bathroom so that my whole house wouldn’t permanently smell like garlic. I checked back in a week to find the basting bag melted through. Inside I found whole heads of coal — little charred pieces of garlic robbed of all moisture. This was an epic fail.

When I tested the temperature of my Crock-Pot (yes, I know I should have done this before I stuck the garlic inside), I found that the lowest setting was hovering around 350°F. No wonder it failed! I tried again, this time turning the slow cooker off when the temp got too high and turning it back on when the temperature got too low. This was a huge hassle, and after three days, the garlic was charred once again. Lesson learned: Unless your slow cooker’s lowest temperature hovers around 120 to 160°F, this is not a good method.

At this point in my experimentation, I was getting pretty close to giving up, but I still had one more theory to test out: the rice cooker.

Credit: Jason Rampe

The Final Test: The Rice Cooker Method

After learning my lesson from the slow cooker, I took the temperature of my rice cooker before adding the garlic. My 15-year-old Zojirushi rice cooker temps at 150°F on low — not quite 120°F, but far from 350°F. I decided to give it a try while checking every other day. 

I began by placing two individually foil-wrapped heads of garlic in the rice cooker, and I wrapped the top of the rice cooker in foil as well, to help contain some moisture. After two days, things seemed to be moving in the right direction! The color had deepened, but it needed more time. I also released a lot of much-needed moisture when I checked on it. 

On day six, the garlic was getting close to black and some of the moisture seemed to have been retained. On day nine, I pulled it out, pulled off the papery skin, and lo and behold: a little black garlic clove was revealed to me. When I smelled it, the same aroma as my store-bought black garlic hit my nose. Could it be? I sliced it open and the texture was of firm gelatin — very similar to what I was going for — and when I tasted it, I knew I was close. It was just a touch drier, and a tiny bit overdone in flavor, showing me two things: I could have pulled it out one day sooner, and I lost too much moisture in the aging process. Next time, I’ll keep the rice cooker covered in the foil for the full eight days to keep the moisture in.

This final test proved that you can make small amounts of black garlic at home in less than two weeks using your rice cooker. For me, this is absolutely worth it — and the smells are far less intense than the slow cooker method! If you’re a big fan of black garlic, or you love a home cooking project, this might be fun for you. But if you only indulge in black garlic occasionally (or don’t want to give up your rice cooker for a week), store-bought is probably a better choice for you.

If You’re Going to Make Black Garlic at Home, a Few Tips

  1. Take the temperature of your rice cooker. Don’t assume your rice cooker cooks at a low temperature. Your ideal range is 120°F to 190°F.
  2. Do what you can to seal in moisture. Wrap the top of the rice cooker with foil and don’t check on it too often, because every time you open it you release the accumulated moisture. Remember that the low temperature and high humidity are what keep the garlic from completely drying out and give the interiors their jelly-like texture. 
  3. Make it in your garage. When you make black garlic, it can smell like you’re driving through Gilroy during the garlic festival. I love the smell of garlic, but if you don’t want your whole house to smell like it, place the rice cooker in the garage, if you have one. I kept mine locked in the bathroom with the window open.

Wondering what to do with your new homemade black garlic? Add it to salad dressings, like homemade ranch or a vinaigrette, or use it to deepen the flavors of chimichurri and pesto. Add it to pastas and pizza. Whip it into hummus. Add it to pan sauces or spread it onto toast. It’s a fun, very versatile ingredient to play with in the kitchen, and it’s a great way to enhance your food with deep, sweet, umami flavors.