text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Daisuke Nakajima / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba
Aomori farmer Shin’ichi Kashiwazaki was an established grower of garlic and other root vegetables like daikon, burdock, and nagaimo yams when, back in 2006, a local university professor published a study on the proven health benefits of aged black garlic. The product had already been marketed in faraway Mie, but the findings were promising for farmers in Aomori prefecture, Japan’s leading producer of garlic.
“Black garlic is rich in antioxidants, amino acids, and polyphenols,” says Kashiwazaki. “It took us a while to learn the best conditions and methods for fermentation, but now the prefecture’s exports total more than two billion yen.” Things really took off after the sweet and slightly tangy flavor sensation turned up on the menus of El Bulli in Spain. Today, it’s stocked by upscale grocers and specialty spice shops around the world.
The June harvest is fan-dried under carefully monitored conditions for three to four weeks. Garlic sprouts in cold weather, so it is planted in the early fall.
(left)Harvested bulbs are dried until their water content shrinks to less than 15 percent.
(right)The aged cloves have even higher antioxidative powers than fresh garlic and are believed to provide a healthy boost to the immune system.
(left)After drying, the bulbs are moved to a special facility for fermentation under secret conditions of temperature and humidity.
(right)A 190-gram bag of black cloves sells for ¥1,458 .