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Black Magic Garlic

13 December 2011

Over time and across cultures just about every food has been tried out for its ability to produce an alcoholic drink via fermentation. Some foods have had greater success than others and it would have to be said that garlic ranks among the fermentational failures, at least when it comes to producing a palatable liqueur. When it comes to producing a healthy food though it seems that fermented garlic is no black sheep.

Fermented garlic is also known as “black garlic” and is a popular condiment in Japan, Thailand, and Korea. It is produced by fermenting whole bulbs of fresh garlic with the fungus Monascus pilosus in temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees Celsius in a humidity-controlled room for nearly a month. After this, the garlic cloves will have turned black. At this stage the garlic would still not be ready for consumption. To achieve a sweet, prune-like taste, the fermented garlic is left to oxidise in a clean room for 45 days.

Black garlic is sweeter in taste than the parent bulb. The pungent smell and spiciness in fresh garlic is removed during the fermentation process. As a milder, sweeter version of garlic, black garlic can be chewed raw or used in cooking and now new research suggests that, just like the parent bulb from which it derives, it has medicinal qualities as well.

In a new trial more than 50 people with elevated triglyceride levels were assigned to either have 900 mg of black garlic per day or a placebo for twelve weeks.

The results showed that black garlic produced maximum reductions in triglyceride and bad LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol of 14.8 per cent and 14.2 per cent, respectively. Triglyceride levels decreased until week eight and then returned to baseline levels after twelve weeks. The ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol levels also decreased by 0.5 per cent. These actions on cholesterol are enough to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

The action of black garlic is thought to be due to a substance called monacolin K. In the study participants were receiving two milligrams of monacolin K per day.

Although research into Black Garlic is relatively new, in case you were thinking that the effects in this study might be due to a placebo effect, you might consider a study published in November 2011 in the Animal Science Journal. In this study pigs were fed varying amounts of black garlic or a standard pig diet. Those pigs fed black garlic showed improved growth performance and enhanced digestion of nutrients.

So black garlic appears to improve digestion and protect the heart by balancing blood cholesterol. In fact, the effects on cholesterol achieved through the dosage of black garlic used in the study described above were similar to the effects of the statin drug lovastatin. This has led the researchers to describe black garlic as a natural form of lovastatin. Given that there are suggestions that statin drugs could be routinely prescribed to reduce heart disease risk, and considering the side-effects of statins such as muscle pain, it could be that black garlic would be a gentler, but effective, alternative.