Black Garlic Tapenade: A New Classic

Black Garlic Cloves and Whole Heads

Black garlic. First things first – what is this mysterious stuff?

Perhaps it’s easiest to begin by describing what black garlic is NOT. Black garlic is not a new strain of garlic; it’s not genetically modified, nor is it a recent invention by practitioners of modernist cuisine.

Rich, Glossy Black Garlic Tapenade

Rich, Glossy Black Garlic Tapenade

Black garlic starts out as regular white garlic (some say that hardneck garlic varieties make the best black garlic), but ends up with a delicately sweet flavor, soft, jam-like texture and striking jet-black color. The process used to create black garlic is complex; whole heads of garlic are carefully aged for the proverbial 40 days in a strictly controlled process that combines steps of steaming, heat and humidity in a very specific sequence. While frequently described as being fermented, that’s not strictly true. The process does not involve any microbial action, a key part of fermentation – it’s actually something closer to caramelization.

Black garlic seems to have been first developed in Korea and has been used for many years, perhaps centuries, by proponents of Asian natural herbal medicine. Prized as a rich source of antioxidants, it’s still touted as an aid to longevity and health.

Black garlic’s recent surge in popularity in the West is not due to this healthy reputation, but rather to its unique flavor and surprising texture. It made a big splash when it began appearing on cutting-edge restaurant menus around 2008, gaining a special mention as “a new staple of modern cuisine” in the New York Times. As time passed, and black garlic became more widely available, it gained a growing following among chefs and adventurous home cooks.

What makes black garlic so popular? In two words: flavor and texture. The texture is remarkable – soft, yielding and spreadable. The taste of black garlic is complex and unique, and attempts to describe it often sound like something from the pages of Wine Spectator; sweet, delicate and jammy, with notes of black licorice, balsamic vinegar, molasses and tamarind, and hints of fennel pollen and allspice – oh, and just a faint trace of garlic.

The complexity of black garlic makes it an ingredient that complements a surprisingly wide variety of foods, including desserts, especially those with sweet spices and chocolate. Though sweet and delicate, it’s just assertive enough to stand out when paired with other stronger flavors.

This week, we’ve come up with a simple and easy appetizer that requires absolutely no cooking – a classic tapenade of black garlic and kalamata olives. While working on this recipe, we found dozens of black garlic tapenade recipes on the internet, but they all seem to be pretty much the same. This version keeps the number of ingredients to a minimum and lets the unique qualities of black garlic shine through.

Black Garlic Tapenade

Bite-sized Canape with Black Garlic Tapenade

Canapes with Black Garlic Tapenade

  • 2 heads black garlic, individual cloves removed from husks
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 medium clove fresh garlic, very finely minced
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & black pepper to taste
For garnish:

Place the black & white garlic cloves, olives and olive oil into a food processor and pulse until the mixture is fairly smooth and the olive oil is incorporated.  Add sea salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon a little Black Garlic Tapenade onto toasted croutons, sliced baguette rounds or crackers, then top with julienned sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and slivers of sharp goat or sheep’s milk cheese or anything else that strikes your fancy. Finish with a sprig of fresh herbs, such as fennel or dill, and a flake or two of good sea salt.

Other serving suggestions: use as a dip for fresh vegetables, drizzle on grilled seafood, toss with pasta or potatoes or massage it under the skin of a whole chicken, game hen or capon before roasting.

 Makes about 1 cup

Black garlic, up close & personal

Black garlic, up close & personal


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